Faith Hope & Fiction

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Good as I Can Be

Gale Acuff

Original Online Poetry

Good as I Can Be by Gale Acuff contains two heartfelt poems, Passion and Starch, that chronicle the struggle of a young boy growing up in a confusing world.

Passion

I love you, Miss Hooker, I say before
I go to sleep every night, to my
pillow. She’s my Sunday School teacher and
I imagine that we’re married and hold
each other close, though my pillow has no
arms but I can hug enough for two
and it doesn’t really matter if she
holds me, too, because I can protect her
this way. It’s Saturday night and I’ll wake
early tomorrow and dress and eat my
scrambled eggs, which I cook myself because
Mother and Father sleep in on Sundays.
Then I’ll walk to church and be the first one

in the classroom and the last to leave—if
I’m going to go to Heaven one day
I have to get as much God as I can
and I might not go at all because I
sin and too much but enough to go to
Hell if I should die without a final
prayer for forgiveness. I’m trying hard.
Miss Hooker’s 25 and I’m just 9

and the odds of us getting married aren’t
very good even if I knew how to
gamble, which I don’t, and that’s another
sin anyway. If Miss Hooker can wait
until I’m old enough I’ll have a shot
at her but I can’t count on that, she’s so
beautiful, red hair and green eyes and legs
that I’m sure she shaves, I got a good look
once and that was sin but it was mine, not
hers, and anyway I prayed like crazy
later that God would forgive me—maybe
He didn’t but I did put in my time.
But if I can never marry her then

I’ve got to be as good as I can be
so that I can go to Heaven when I
die, and see her, and if I die first then
I want to greet her when she gets there so
my best chance of spending time with her comes
not in this life but the next. Of course, I
spend time with her in Sunday School class but
so do my classmates, and anyway here
we’re supposed to spend our time studying
the Bible and not falling in love but
I can’t help myself, I want to do both,
but sometimes God gets in the way of love
and sometimes love gets in the way of God,
or maybe that’s just two ways of saying
the same thing. I’d like to ask Miss Hooker
but I never get her alone except

when class is finished and there’s only boy
and woman left, and Jesus on the wall
where He’s hanging from His crucifix
like the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz
but not exactly. I’d like to free Him,
though, the way Dorothy did her man of straw.
I always walk Miss Hooker to her car
and open the door for her and try not

to look at her legs and the secret there
where they end at her belly, where babies
come from, I think, but I can’t ask her that
and when I ask my parents all they say
is You’ll learn soon enough or We’ll tell you
later or Well, would you like a cookie
or Go outside and play with the dog, but
we don’t have one. I shut the door for her

and she buckles up and starts her engine
and turns to me and always says, Goodbye,
though that Sunday she slipped and said Good night,
then laughed and I laughed but still she turned red,
like her hair but still more pink than scarlet,
I’m not sure why but she could tell me if
she wanted to, she’s sharp, but never has
or God never lets her and if I go
to the source He never tells me, either.

Tonight I’ll go to bed as usual,
turn out my light and crawl inside and hold
Miss Hooker close and ask her if she’s had
a good day and if she’s still satisfied
she married me and if she’d like to have
a baby or two, or a dozen, and
what we can name them but I never ask
just how to make them because I don’t want
her to think I’m an idiot even
if the truth is she’s only a pillow.
In the darkness I know God is watching
and can kill me in a snap whenever
He wants to. Sometimes I want Him to
but I’m devoted to Miss Hooker—she’s
my girl. Maybe I don’t know her first name
and am too scared to ask her but I know
she loves God, Who loves her, and maybe me,
as much as I’m able to understand
until I get a little older, say
13, and start shaving, and speaking with
the tongue of a man. And then I’ll show her.

Good as I can Be, original poetry by Gale Acuff

Starch

You couldn’t find your butt with both hands, he
says, my father, after I tell him I’ve lost
my allowance, a whole quarter, which buys
a lot in ’66—two comic books
at 12 cents each, and a penny for tax.
Well, you’re not getting anymore, he says,
until next Friday. If then. He turns. I
want to cry but I don’t–he’ll just get mad
all over again. Mother slips a dime
to me. It’s better than nothing. Thanks,
I say. Be careful with money, she says.
She walks quickly to catch up to Father

here at the shopping center. We just ate
supper at the cafeteria, where
I ordered spaghetti and french fries, or
tried to–Father nixed that. No, he says. No
one orders two starches that way. I say
Huh? Pasta and potatoes, he says. That
won’t fly. I don’t want ’em to fly, I think
—I want ’em to eat. But I bite my tongue.
What I get is spaghetti and green beans,
green like greenbacks. I count them. 30? I
eat about half of them but all the spaghetti.

Now I have 10 cents to pop and I need
3 more for a comic book, including
tax, so I hit the asphalt parking lot
and look for coins that shoppers have dropped but
all I find are cigarette butts, bottle
caps, and burnt wooden matches. I even
go back to the car and search between seats
and under floormats. There’s a bobby pin
and two paper clips. But no Lincoln heads.

So if I can’t buy Superman I’ll have
to buy 10 cents’ worth of candy instead
and, heck, we’ve got that at home. If Father
comes through for me next Friday then I’ll have
35 cents if I don’t spend Mother’s
sympathy-dime. That’s 7 days from now,
or the weekend plus 5 more school days. I

can hang on, I guess. I’ll show ’em. And if
Father decides not to give me my due,
not that it’s really mine or I deserve
it but if he doesn’t he doesn’t love
me… I’ve been standing in the parking lot
so long this summer evening my sneakers
have melted to the blacktop. I’m going
to find them, my folks, and put it to them:
I don’t want your money. And drop the dime

back in Mother’s hand and tell Father
I’m not for sale at any price, then go
back to the car and sit in the rear seat
with the windows rolled up and the doors locked
and die from the heat and my CO2
by the time we meet up. That’ll fix ’em.

On the other hand, I’ll be out a dime
and that’s a lot to pay for a principle
and not enough to boot. I’m not so dumb
—it’s hard to be a hero. If I am.

Good as I can Be, original poetry by Gale Acuff

Dr. Gale Acuff is a member of the faculty in the Department of Modern Languages, English Faculty of Arts, Arab American University, in Zababdeh, Palestine.

Those who liked Good as I Can Be may also like the poem: “Last Vows” at Faith Hope and Fiction.

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