I’m going to die one day. Miss Hooker
told me so and she should know, I guess, she’s
my Sunday School teacher and a good one
and so smart that she goes to junior college
and works weekends in our town library
and you can’t get much smarter than that. She
says that no one knows when he’ll die, or she,
it could happen any time and there you
are, standing before the throne of God, Who
judges you and, she says, if you’re wanting,
which means that you didn’t do a good job
being a human being, then it’s Hell
for sure. But if you’ve been good then you go
to Heaven and live among the angels
forever. The long and the short of it
is that since you can’t know when you’ll die then
you’d better not be sinning when you do.
If you die in sin, she says, then you’re doomed.
I cheated on my math test last Friday
and I didn’t get caught but God saw me
all the same and although He can’t flunk me or
give me a zero–He’s not our teacher,
Miss Minerva is, she gets paid for it
–He can get me in the end for sinning.
So what I have to do is ask Him to
forgive me, and ask Him in Jesus’ name,
maybe begging would be better, going
down on my knees though they’re not very strong,
and He will. Or at least I think He will.
Or I hope He will. He’s God–if He wants
to change His mind I guess He’s got that right.
And I really didn’t mean to cheat, it
sort of just happened, Dickie Ledbetter’s
test out where I could see it from my desk.
I’d have to have been blind not to and I
couldn’t help myself. Maybe that’s Satan
or maybe it’s me. I shouldn’t have looked
but I didn’t want to fail, I hate math
but I guess I should hate Hell more and if
that’s where I wind up going I’ll learn to
but I guess it will be too late, burning
in fire–and brimstone, whatever that is,
forever, and just thinking about it
makes me sweat and I guess I’ll sweat harder
down there but not enough to put out the flames.
The thing to do is be good all the time,
Miss Hooker says, and that way you won’t have
to worry about eternal torment
if you expire when you least expect to,
but I don’t know of anyone that good.
I guess a little luck is part of it
but if I’m counting on that I’m gambling
and that’s another sin. I barely passed
my math test and if I hadn’t cheated
I wouldn’t have passed at all and so
I would’ve failed and been a sinner both,
but now I’m just a sinner but at least
I’m not a sinner and a failure. But
then again I guess I am. Life is
funny like that, Hell or no Hell, sin or
no sin. If I was God I’d split a gut
–it would sound like thunder or a building
being demolished, or an avalanche,
but maybe that’s what those are after all.
I was so nervous when I got my test
back from Miss Minerva that I knocked
my history book, it’s awful damn thick,
off my desk and it hit the floor so hard
even my classmates in the farthest row
jumped and Miss Minerva did, too–she spun
around and gave me an ugly look, so
I apologized and leaned over to
pick it up but fell over in my desk
and that was a hundred times louder than
the book and my classmates laughed and laughed while
I got out and pulled my desk upright and
sat down again, but I forgot my book
after all that so I got up again
to fetch it. More laughter. Miss Minerva
told me to write two hundred times I must
not be so clumsy and thoughtless. I wish
I could cheat somehow, have somebody else
write it for me, Jesus maybe, because
it isn’t fair, it was an accident.
I wish I’d died right then, smashed my head on
the classroom floor but no such luck. I guess
God hates me good. Now I’ve got two hundred
reasons to hate Him back. But what the Hell.
Gale Acuff, PhD, has had poetry published in Ascent, Ohio Journal, Descant, Adirondack Review, Ottawa Arts Review, WorcesterReview, Verse Wisconsin, Maryland Poetry Review, Florida Review, South Carolina Review, Carolina Quarterly, Poem, Amarillo Bay, South Dakota Review, Santa Barbara Review, Sequential Art Narrative in Education, 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.