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ADELAIDE Independent Bimonthly Literary Magazine / Revista Literária Independente Bimensal, New York / Lisboa, Online Edition  

 




 

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

BALM
By Gale Acuff

 

 

 

 

 

Balm

After Sunday School I came home to sin
again, my folks smoking in the kitchen
and gulping Yuban and not even dressed
and Father unshaven and dishes in
the sink for me to wash later and no
makeup on Mother and nothing left for
me to eat but what I make myself. I
go to church because I need the morals
is what they tell me. They don't go themselves.
Maybe we should all go together but
they like to sleep late, It's my only free
day, Father says, and Mother says, That's so.
So I walk the half-mile there alone and
try to be the first in Sunday School so
I can see Miss Hooker, my teacher and
beautiful but old, 25 to my
10, so whatever becomes of love for
us it won't include marriage unless she
waits until I'm old enough for her, say
16, when I guess I'll be ready, more
like Father and less like me but by then
she might be more like Mother and less like
what God now has her as. Last night I dreamt
I got to class and she proposed that we
run away together and leave it all
behind, not only sin but how we try
to rise above sin, piano and hymns
and Bible stories. We got in her Dodge
and I asked where we were headed and she
said, To my place, and when we got there she
showed me in and we sat on the sofa
and held hands but innocence is easy
to turn to sin so I said, I'm sorry
ma'am, but I'd better go home, but she said, Well,
I'm not going to drive you, so I said
That's alright, ma'am, I'll just walk, and I did,
five or six miles, and when I got there my
parents were at the kitchen table as
usual with the big Sunday paper
between them so I sat down and Father
asked without looking up, What did God
say today, and Mother said, Yes, tell us.
I said, There is no balm in Gilead.
Then Father handed me the front page news.
And then I woke in time for Sunday School
but fell back to sleep. That's how I got saved.

 

 

 

 

 

Flora

I brought Miss Hooker flowers this morning,
wild ones from the bank of the road I walk
to Sunday School and back. They were drooping
by the time I made it to class and though
I prayed and prayed as I walked toward church
that God would pull off a miracle and
resurrect them, which means bring them back to life
again, no such luck. I'm glad I was first
in the room--well, first after Miss Hooker
--well, the first student, anyway, because
the other kids would've laughed at me and
I might've told them all to go to Hell,
at least after class was over--I mean
after class I would've told them that, not
that I would've cared when they went, just so
they did, maybe the sooner the better,
but I'm patient and that's a virtue though
wishing them to Hell, that's likely a sin.
Life's just as confusing as religion.
And there she was, Miss Hooker, behind her
desk and sitting in her big blue chair and
with her glasses off, the better to see
her green eyes and freckles under all that
red hair--no wonder I'm in love with her
and pray every night that God will make us
the same age by the morning and tell us
in a dream, too, why He's done it, so that
she'll be expecting me to call on her
and we'll see each other for the first time
after our change, I wonder if it's called
a resurrection, too. I'll bring flowers,
the kind you buy in a store or can grow
in your own yard if you've got a green thumb,
the kind you sometimes have to buy cold so
they'll stay fresh, the kind sort of expensive
so that she'll know I'm not a tightwad but
still affordable so she'll know I'm not
extravagant--the kind you buy that are
balanced like that, like a husband should be.
But while she was cleaning her glasses I
went up to Miss Hooker with wildflowers
inside my right fist and held them out and
cleared my throat and thrust them farther. She looked
across the desk, where the Bible lay, and
looked up at me, making me taller though
I'm short for my age, and young, 10 to her
25, so she's pretty old
but she's still in bloom. Oh, is that you, Gale,
she asked, I guess out of almost-blindness.
Yes ma'am, I said--then, I brung you flowers,
I hope you like 'em, I picked 'em myself.
She reached for them and I felt like Adam
when God gave him the touch of life except
I wasn't naked, of course, like he is
in that painting. Michelangelo, he's
the guy who did it. Before I was born.
Oh, they're beautiful, she mewed, and rose
to smell them, which made me feel guilty because
I already tried and they didn't smell
like anything. Maybe that means they would
smell like anything you wanted them to,
watermelon, say, or bubblegum or
even the baseball cards that come with them
or a new comic book or sauerkraut
on a hot dog or Mother's hairspray or
gasoline when it spills on the engine
when Father's getting ready to cut grass
or trout frying on a barbeque grill
or underarm deodorant for girls.
Anything. Anyway, Miss Hooker
pulled back her head and said, Let's find a vase
to put these in but we had to settle
for a Sprite bottle which she filled with
water from her coffee pot, then set it,
the vase I mean, on the windowsill so
they'll get enough light, she said. I wanted
to say I love you, Miss Hooker, but I
couldn't, I just couldn't, I had to let
faded flowers say it for me and they
choked, but after class, and her glasses on
again, of course, they looked as good as dead.
I couldn't say I love you so I said
Beauty's in the eye of the beholder,
which I got from a TV commercial,
those ugly little Volkswagens, maybe,
and she looked at me and said, Bless you, you're
right, aren't you? What could I do but smile
but when I did damned if she didn't start
to cry, so I did, too, she's my teacher,
I learn a lot about the truth from her,
whatever that is, I don't have it all
yet. When I do I guess I'll be like seeds.

 

 

 

 

                                               

 Good Sport

Here at the church picnic Miss Hooker
sits on a bench and sips an orange Nehi
--I wonder what she's got against grape--with
her legs together and one ankle locked
behind the other and that's how I know
she's a lady, especially because

it's windy today and I'm up to bat
and hope she's watching to see how long
I can hit one even though I'm little
for my age and never hit homeruns but
I'm still in there swinging and there are men,
boys and girls, actually, on second
and third and two outs and we're losing by
one run and I haven't had good wood yet
but then Miss Hooker was at a table

serving lemonade and cookies and cake
and pie and probably wasn't watching
and isn't really watching now, she's like
Mother, who doesn't give a fig for sports
but can act as if she does and that's fine,
that's what Father's for, I guess, and they seem
to get along otherwise, after all,
they're married to each other, and if I
can at least loop one into right field then

we win here in the bottom of the ninth
even if it's really the bottom of
the sixth, we're just Sunday School kids and she's
our teacher, or teaches some of us, but
she's more mine than anyone else's since
I'm in love with her and when I'm grown we'll
marry, I learned it in a dream last night,
which was Saturday, so it must come true,

I never miss at Sunday School and I
read the lesson in our workbook before
I get there and I mean the night before,
I don't wait until breakfast on Sunday
and try to cram those Bible stories in,
and when we sing a hymn I always sing
so Miss Hooker can hear me and if God
can hear me, too, way up in Heaven, it's

a bonus. Of course God is everywhere,
I know it's so because Miss Hooker said
and she would never lie or there's a damn
good reason for it, darn good one I mean.
In my dream we were at the picnic and
giant ants invaded and tried to take
her away but I stopped them with some holds
I learned on wrestling on TV and though
everyone ran away, and I mean men,
women, and children, I fought the ants off

by myself and rescued Miss Hooker from
real peril. She was so grateful that she
kissed me and said, What a man, though you're still
a boy, and I said, Thank you, Miss Hooker,
I was just doing my job, defending
the weak against the strong, like Jesus did
although He died for it, and painfully,
up on the Cross. And Miss Hooker said, True,
but He rose again on the third day, and
I thought, She sure knows her Bible and if
we get married one day she'll tell me tales

from the Good Book, a story every night
before we go to sleep and make babies
and I'll bet she knows how to do that, too,
and will teach me. So I asked, Will you wait
for me, Miss Hooker, 'til I'm old enough
to be your lawfully wedded husband,
but it wasn't really a question, I
was showing leadership ability
and girls like that a lot, or TV says,

and she said, Yes yes O yes, count me in,
and then I woke and the sun had come up                                             
and that's always a good sign--the future,
it means, and not the end of the world quite
yet and me just nine years old and ready
to live forever even if that means
just one more day. I've got two strikes on me
because I've been thinking and not acting
and here comes the next pitch and I smack it

right back to the pitcher and soon I'm out
and we lose by a run but I hit it
hard, their pitcher tells me so and shows
the red spot on his palm where he stopped it,
and we lost fair and square so I decide
to be a good sport and not care too much,
and when I walk over to Miss Hooker
to ask if she'd like another cool drink
she says, That wasn't your pitch, was it, so
she was watching me after all. I guess not,
ma'am, I say. Then she gets up to have her cup

refilled and I watch her, then start to cry.
Sometimes that's how the weak protect the strong.

 

                                                   

 

 

 Double Figures

I wonder what Miss Hooker looks like when
she takes her clothes off, if she ever does
--I guess she has to if she's going to
take a bath or undress and dress again.
That means she'd be naked but it's a sin
to say that word--I don't want to go to
Hell because I'm pretty close already
and if I die without asking to be
forgiven by God and Jesus, and then
there's the Holy Ghost, too, it's Hell for me
for sure so I'd better be damn careful.
Miss Hooker's my Sunday School teacher and
I love her and want to marry her but

she's not exactly young, 25 I'd say
to my 10. I'm not exactly old but
at least I'm into double figures, which
ought to count for something. And if we did
get married, if I prayed like crazy for
God to make Miss Hooker younger and me
older until we wound up the same age,
18 would be good, I'd have to see her
naked and maybe that works both ways--she'd
see me in my skin, too. So I don't mean
to sin--I just want to be ready if

God answers my prayer, which I haven't
prayed yet but I might start tonight, before
I fall asleep, and slip it in somewhere
between the Lord's Prayer and the one for
my dog and the one for my parents
and the extra one I've got to say for
my math test tomorrow, that I pass it.
If I get my miracle then I'll wake
eight years older and so will Miss Hooker,
eight years younger for her, I mean, and then

I'll find out where she lives and visit
--I hope that God will let me drive there, too
--and she'll be waiting for me on her porch
say or, even better, a balcony,
and I'll be nervous and I hope I don't
say Guess you know what this means, Sugarlips,
it means I get to see you naked, once
at least, anyway, on our honeymoon.
It's hard to believe Father and Mother
still do--see each other without any
clothes, I mean. Yuck. Maybe being naked
is just for younger folks, and I'm sure that
I wasn't born with clothes on, but then I
don't know where I came from anyway but
maybe Miss Hooker can tell me. Mother
and Father won't answer the question or

they give strange ones, like the hospital or
the moon or the Mississippi River.
I asked Grandmother--she said the milkman
but we buy moo juice at the Food Giant.
Anyway, I'd hate to see Miss Hooker
without any clothes on, on her I mean.
And if she doesn't mind I won't take mine
off--I'm kind of shy. And I'm willing to
make her my wedded wife to seal the deal.
That seems square to me. I just want to see
what she's got that I don't. I take that back
--if that was the truth I could ask Mother
but she's Father's girl and I wouldn't cut him
out for anything. I'm a gentleman.

 

 

 

About the Author:

Gale Acuff

Gale Acuff’s poetry has been published in Ascent, Ohio Journal, Descant, Adirondack Review, Ottawa Arts Review, Worcester Review, Maryland Poetry Review, Florida Review, South Carolina Review, Arkansas Review, Carolina Quarterly, Poem, South Dakota Review, Santa Barbara Review, Sequential Art Narrative in Education, and many other journals. He is the author of  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 taught university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.

 

 

                                                                        

 

 




 




 

 

 

     
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