Summer 2011

Table of Contents - Vol. VII, No. 2

Poetry    Fiction    Translations     Reviews

Gale Acuff

The Truth Shall Set You Free


After Sunday School I walk home. Jesus
is with me, or at least a bit close, or
I'm just imagining it. Still, I don't
look over my shoulder to catch Him there
because I'm afraid. This must be the fear
of God that Miss Hooker was going on
about. No, wait--she said it means respect,
too. What was that other word? Reverence.
Children, she said, you have nothing to fear
unless you're evil, or doing what the Devil
wants you to do.
I don't want to go to
Hell so I'd better be as good as I
can be or I'll miss out on Heaven and
if I live a long, long life I'd hate it
if I wasted it just to find myself
toasting on a pitchfork and forever.
Right now I'm in between, on Earth of course,
halfway between Hell and Heaven--I mean
Heaven and Hell, in Powder Springs, Georgia,
USA. I forget the zip code. But
I never forget our phone number. So
depending on how much I sin, or don't, or
both, I'm headed either into the sky
or the center of the Earth, where he lives,
Satan--I know he's there because no one's
ever drilled down that far to discover
that he's not, which is good enough for me,
and anyway I flunked third grade last year,
but in fairness to me, just barely, it
was close. But I made a lot of new friends.
So I've already been held back once and
going to Hell might be like staying here
on earth for another whole life, but worse,
all that fire and screaming and torture and
being thirsty for a glass of water
but there isn't any, or none you'd drink,
it's more like pee and Liquid Drano and
oil and milky vomit and vinegar
and snot and pus and spit and turpentine
all mixed together so that it looks pure,
and one of the Devil's helpers offers
you a glass and your throat's so dry and lips
so cracked and scabby you forget yourself
and snatch it from his claws, or hers, and gulp
it before you remember what it did
to you last time you tried it. I'm almost
home and Mother's making lunch, I hope, while
Father's at the table with the Sunday
paper. He sets the comics on my side,
hard by the stove, the Phantom and Mark Trail
and Prince Valiant, heroes who will go to
Heaven sure and they're not even real but
I am and my chances are just so-so
and it doesn't seem fair but that's life, through
and through. My folks don't go to church themselves
but that doesn't stop them from sending me.
After lunch we'll stay at the table and
they'll smoke Montclairs and sip Chock Full o' Nuts
and ask me what I learned in church today,
and Sunday School, and I might tell the truth,
that I love my teacher, Miss Hooker, and
I want to marry her and have babies,
as many as we can, and we'll wander
all over the country, healing the sick
and raising the dead and shouting Repent,
repent, prepare ye the way of the Lord.
I wonder what they'll think about all that.
Tonight I'll dream about Miss Hooker, that
we're married and on our way to Fort Payne,
Alabama, say, and sowing the seed
and spreading the word and the word is God,
and like that. It's really hard to say if
the truth will set me free but it will be
something to talk about during dessert,
apple pie, say, or something else sinful.

© Gale Acuff

Poetry    Fiction    Translations     Reviews

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