red, by gale acuff

I love Jesus–what’s not to love, He died
for my sins and not just mine, all men’s
and women’s and children’s, too, and not
just died but died horribly, on the Cross
and not just the Cross, on the Crucifix
to beat all crucifixes and of course
all crucifixions. But I love sin, too
–Hell, I’m only ten years old but they say
at Sunday School that if I die in sin
then I’ll wake up dead in Hell so I need
to get saved, which means to swear that Jesus
is the Son of God and died for my sins
and the sooner I do so the better
because if I don’t and I should die then
like I said before, I’m doomed. At Sunday
School this morning I waited until all
my classmates left the room, then I went up
to Miss Hooker, our teacher, 25
and so beautiful that it ought to be
a sin and I’d tell her so but I think
I’ll wait until I”m old enough to date
her, if she’s still single and maybe if
she’s not, too, I guess that’s the sinful part
but anyway before she could ask me
why I hadn’t left the classroom I cleared
my throat and asked, What’s so bad about sin
anyway, Baby? which made her frown and
frown some more, and speechless, too, I wonder
what the connection is, maybe I’ll be
a scientist one day or a doctor
–are they scientists, too?–but anyway
she just pointed over my shoulder to
the door, which was her sign language for Get

lost, so I did, but I smiled instead of
frowning, boy, did her face go as red as
her hair and it’s really red, too, not red
out of a bottle or the hairdresser’s,
and as I was walking home Miss Hooker
telephoned my folks, who were waiting but
not as happily as usual for
me to fix us lunch while they sat and smoked and
slurped Sanka and shared the Sunday paper
at the kitchen table and who waited
until after lunch, even after I
washed and dried and put away the dishes,
not to be ungentlemanly. Yes sir,
I said, and Yes ma’am. Yet this is love but
try explaining that to them, anyway
only Miss Hooker needs to understand.
I’ll see her again next Sunday and ply
my troth once more. Sooner or later she’s
got to repent, maybe by the time I’m
marrying age, 16 or 18 to
her 31 or 33. If He
didn’t die for this, what did He die for,
Jesus I mean? It’s quite the cross to bear.

I have 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. I have 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).

I have taught university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.

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