I was holding my Sunday School teacher,
Miss Hooker, close to me in bed last night
in a dream. When I woke up for breakfast
and to get dressed for church next morning I
wondered if she'd had it, too, and figured
I'd find out by the look on her face when
I came into the classroom, a little
late--fashionably late, as Mother says,
though I never tell her my dreams because
she wouldn't understand, or maybe she
would, and might tell Father, who'd bring it up
at Sunday dinner--I don't like to be
embarrassed. Miss Hooker's a lot older,
25, maybe, to my 10. In dreams
I can have almost anything I want,
including her, and marriage, and babies,
a fast car and a big house and color
TV, and can be a rock star, say Paul
instead of the real Paul in the Beatles
--John, ____, George, and Ringo, and there we are
on Ed Sullivan and Hullabaloo
and Shindig but we're too big for Bandstand.
Or I can be Henry Aaron and hit
a ton of homers and trot the bases
as if I own them and what's the hurry?
But when I got to Sunday School today
Miss Hooker wasn't there, was ill, Miss Sapp,
the substitute, said. So I fell asleep
almost, but to my credit, only at
the end. I walked home and started to cry
only halfway there, wondering whether
Miss Hooker would die, and where would I be
then, and my dreams? My only hope is if
she's well again next week and can return
--or if I put my dreams to the test I
can heal her tonight. She's lying in bed
while I sit on a wooden chair beside
and watch her carefully. I'm no doctor
but I think that I'm able to tell when
someone's in trouble. I call a real one
who soon comes and saves her at the last second.
Then he takes her to the hospital and
by the time I get her things together
and arrive there myself, she's in his arms
in her private room where I've stumbled in.
Boy, are they embarrassed. Miss Hooker looks
at me as if I'm fresh roadkill myself
and says, Oh Darling, it's not what you think,
even if it is. Huh? I say. That's how
adults explain things anyway. So I
say Don't worry about it, and go home,
and wash the bedsheets and dry them and make
it look like no one has ever flopped there.
Then I run away from this two-bit town
and wander back in about twenty years
to look Miss Hooker up and if she's not
the doctor's wife or anyone else's
I court her again. In those twenty years
I've had a slew of dreams about her and
they'll keep me company until she says
Oh yes, yes! and if she never does then
I'll just go back home. Wherever that is
--maybe I mean that I'll just waste away.
And maybe she'll visit me on my death
bed, and beg my forgiveness, and I'll say
Sure, and we'll send for the preacher and get
spliced just before I expire and go to
a better place, at least a different,
and wait for her whose life I helped to save
before it was too late for me, almost,
and who gave me a lifetime in my last
winks, and in whose arms I died. Finally.
I love Miss Hooker but she doesn't love
me back, at least not the right way. She's my
Sunday School teacher and I feel sorry
for her because she's old, 25, to
my 10, but she's still pretty appealing,
red hair and green eyes and a couple of
moles on her nose and about a million
freckles everywhere on her that I can
see and maybe more on places where I
can't, and since more of her is covered up
than naked then that makes infinity
so no wonder she teaches Sunday School, she's
so close to God on that account alone.
I want to marry her one day and it
would help a lot if she felt the same way
but I think there's a law against that. But
if we kept our love a secret until
I'm old enough to court her then we're sure
to be the happiest couple around,
forget that since she's fifteen years older
odds are she'll die on me. I hope there's time
for us to have a couple of babies
and we're married long enough to see them
grown and out of our way before she dies
of old age and leaves me all alone, though
I'll visit her grave every Sunday
and sit beside her and listen to her
tell me one of those good old stories like
she used to years ago, when I was her
student, stories about how Jesus raised
Lazarus from the dead, and Moses, who
parted the Red Sea, and Joseph and his
mean brothers, and his coat, and Pharoah's dreams,
and David and Goliath, and Saul knocked
off his ass and changing his name to Paul.
She'll have to speak up, though, from where she is,
dead and in her coffin and waiting for
Judgement Day so that her soul will go to
God, and since she's a sure bet for Heaven
then maybe I'll hear her better from up
there, or however that works--I'm not real
sure of my facts. But anyway I'll die,
too, and if I rate maybe join her there
in Heaven, and kiss her, if we've still got
lips. But a lot has to happen before
now and then--Miss Hooker has got to fall
and hard, and I'm not too good at romance
so I'll pray like Hell to God that He will
put a kind of spell on her for me. If
not then I'll have to marry someone else.
Then I'll never get to count those freckles
in the dark, in the bed, in the same bed,
in the bed we share, Miss Hooker and I
and God makes three. But He'd better watch out
--I saw her first. Well, not exactly. He
saw her first. But damn it, I saw her best.
My brother's on his death-bed and we're twins.
It's not a bed now but a place to die.
It's like looking at me. One day, I know,
someone will. He got the bad heart. I took
most of the good one--I was born first.
Funny how you lose a life in minutes:
Come closer, I say. I mean, he says. Yes,
I say. One of us is weeping. Which one?
We're identical, after all, as near
to each other as possible. That's close
enough, he says. (We don't like to be crowded).
We were born together, he says, more or
less. Makes sense that we should die together.
He laughs. I laugh. But it's not real laughter,
just nerves. Just fear. Uh--that is real laughter.
I've got a few minutes left yet, he says.
Me, too, I say, somewhat stupidly. No
need for you to hang around, he says, and
besides, it's time to let our sisters in.
Well, I say, we're twins. I ought to be with
you all the way. Uh, I mean--oh, you know
what I mean. He laughs. Don't make me laugh, he
cries. It hurts too damned much. Should be enough
I'm dying--I don't want to go in pain.
No, I say. I mean, yes: it isn't fair.
What's on the other side, he asks. Dunno,
I say. If you can, please let me know. Give
me a sign. Two knocks for Heaven, one for
the other place. And none if it's like here.
But he's already dozing in the sleep
that segues into death. Then he blinks
and says, O, shit, it's more of the same.
And I laugh until it hurts, and he smiles
either through the pain or it's how pain smiles.
You son of a bitch, he says. Stop it. Then
he's gone again, this time for good, at least
forever. That was seven years ago.
I have children and show them their uncle.
He looks just like you, one says. Stupid, they're
twins, says the other. Daddy, if you're twins,
why didn't you both die at the same time?
Uh, I say. It doesn't work that way. (By
It I mean Life, of course). I want to say,
Well, I did die, in a manner of speaking.
But that's poetry and bad poetry
at that, and worst of all, it's poignancy.
And even worse is all the happiness.
When I die and not that I want to but
I'll try 'most anything once I'll stay up
as late as I want and eat as much
pizza as I like and tacos, too, and
ice cream and popcorn and peanut butter
and cherry pie and fried shrimp and French fries
and in general make a glutton of
myself yet feel no bad effects or what's
Heaven for if you can't sin once and for
all the ways you weren't supposed to back on
Earth when you were living but afraid of
death? Maybe the reward for getting saved
and not sinning at all except for how
all people do because of Adam and
Eve is to sin all you want in Heaven
and as for Hell, well, maybe there you have
to play it square, maybe Satan tortures
folks there by making it so perfect that
you'll be in agony forever but just
imagine all the ice cream sodas and
parfaits and banana splits you can choke
down but nothing bad comes of them as on
Earth, no fat or lousy nerves from sugar or
cavities or upset stomach, God's too
damn good to me and I'd tell myself to
get the goodies now but that's a sin and
I'd wind up in Hell where things are better
and that would kill me twice. I'm delicate.
I guess I'll have to die one day, that's what
they say at Sunday School and it's never
too early to prepare myself because
if I've been good I go to Heaven and
if bad I go to Hell but I want to
stay on Earth forever but no dice, my
body can until its atoms-only
remain but what makes me me goes on some
-where and I don't make the rules, of course, though
if I could change them I would, I'd never
die but dwell on Earth forever, always
aging but never growing so much that
I get too feeble to get around so
after Sunday School today I told my
teacher how I feel and that I'm quitting
church and Sunday School, which made her cry, so
then I took it all back and me as well
and gave us back to her. But not to God.
Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Chiron Review, McNeese Review, Adirondack Review, Weber, Florida Review, South Carolina Review, Carolina Quarterly, Arkansas Review, Poem, South Dakota Review, and many other journals. He has authored three books of poetry: Buffalo Nickel (BrickHouse Press, 2004), The Weight of the World (BrickHouse, 2006), and The Story of My Lives (BrickHouse, 2008). He has taught university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.