Syntax Issue 10
Denver Syntax
  gale acuff

When Miss Hooker's not looking I slip back
into the Sunday School classroom to ask
her if she'll be my girlfriend even though
she's plenty old, maybe 25, to
my 9 but I'm in love so I don't care
because love is bigger than ciphering
or take-aways or multiplication
or division and numbers aren't that real
anyway, not like people are, or they're
real in a different way, like Jesus or
God or the Holy Ghost. I'm not too sure
because I'm still a kid, in the third grade
and I've got about nine more years to go

before I graduate and know it all
--they'll give me a paper that will prove it,
a sheepskin, it's called, and I'll wear a robe
and a funny hat with a swinging string
and I'll march up the aisle and then climb steps
and walk on stage and wait my turn and take
it from the principal, I guess, or the
President of the United States at
the time, and all this to music, and my
father and mother and maybe my dog
will be sitting in the audience, in
folding chairs, and applauding and crying,
well maybe Mother but maybe Father,
too, if he's drunk, and my dog might arf arf
and maybe I'll wave. And somewhere out there

is Miss Hooker, my Sunday School teacher,
who will be--but I failed arithmetic
in second grade--34, and she'll be
waiting for me to shake my father's hand
and to be kissed by Mother and my dog
can shake hands, too, but he's not much of a
kisser, and Miss Hooker and I will find
each other in the crowd, and another
good word for crowd is throng, I learned that in
school last week but I'm sorry to say not
much more, and she'll say, Congratulations,
, which will sound like I love you to me,
and I'll say, Thank you, Miss Hooker, because
though I'll know her first name by then I won't
know whether I should use it or not but
she'll take my hand and I'll look right in her

eyes to see what I wish her mouth would say
as if the words were boiling to the top
like beans and I hope they come together
as If you ask me to marry you now
I'll do it
. But when we're alone in class

and she says, Why, Gale, there you are again,
I thought you'd left with the other children,
what can I do for you
? I don't know what
to say except, Can I erase the board
for you and then clap the erasers and
stack the hymnals back on your desk and
close the window and walk you to your car?

Those aren't the words of love I meant to say

but I'm nervous, what with her red hair and
green eyes and the mole on her nose and those
freckles--if I connected the dots then
we'd be there until next Sunday but that's
love, which is better than education
or a story from the Bible, saving,
of course, David and Goliath, and that
Lazarus, come forth!--maybe not better
but almost as good. Miss Hooker says, Why,
that's very kind of you
, so I clean up
and walk her to her car, and open her
door and look away as she settles in
so I don't see her legs and any more
of what I'm not supposed to know but that's
not her fault, and when she's in I slam it
and take a chance, like guessing the answer
in arithmetic, I love you, but her
window was rolled up, I forgot, so she
rolls it down and asks, What was that you said,
and God comes to me and gives me courage
so I repeat, I love you, Miss Hooker,
and keep my eyes on her eyes when they're not
on her freckles or both lips and she says
Why, I love you, too, you sweet boy, see you
next week
, and I stand clear as she drives off
and I don't move until she's out of sight
and what's left is dust and heat and exhaust.
I don't know how to top it next week so

I might ask her to marry me then and
if she says no then in another week
I'll ask her if she can wait at least 'til
I'm old enough and not marry any
other man, not that I'm one now but I'm
counting. If she says no again I'll just
pray like Hell every night she'll be mine
one day. Or maybe she's mine already
and this is as far as love goes but I
don't think so. We still have to multiply.