Download PDF Here Live Encounters Poetry & Writing October 2022.
A Covid Communal, poems by Gary Fincke.
A Covid Communal
Icelanders held a funeral for the Okjokull glacier
Now, while winter, like the large mammals,
is going extinct, we have wondered how long
a virus can remain potent on frequently
touched surfaces. After Sunday’s delivery,
we have sanitized our produce—oranges,
tomatoes, an eggplant, two variates of squash.
Recently, fresh rumors list multiple cases
in the nursing home near our grocery.
Talk of collective memorial services,
bodies arranged in refrigerated trucks
that arrive and depart before daylight.
Earlier today, mid-week for milk and bread,
I lifted my mask in the parking lot and
watched two women enter that home,
both masked as they exited their cars,
wearing them like accessories that
highlight their uniforms for essential care.
In a neighboring county, across the street
from the specialist who monitors
my thyroid tumors, another home has
been shuttered for months, its lot a maze
of crime scene tape and sawhorses.
On its promotion site, that facility
gleams with comfort and security,
residents photographed in tidy rooms,
their group activities filmed inside
its spacious community center, each
caption dated during our current,
coming-of-age century, the one
in which winter will emigrate, fleeing
the imminent collapse of seasons.
In Iceland, while mourners gather,
time-lapsed photographs ask them
to remember a glacier’s immensity,
how indestructible can be stripped
by a bout of ordinary weather.
Keeping today’s appointment, I call
from my car and wait to be escorted
inside, after questioning, for a report
on caution and care’s success.
That dark home, emptied like a glacier,
seems capable of becoming airborne.
A Case Study
The Silence of the Street before Hit-and-Run
This night, precisely at ten p.m.,
a woman leaves a restaurant where
she has already hugged friends who
decided to linger over coffee.
Across the street, near her car, success
has abandoned a store, its bare shelves
waiting quietly as hope. Above it,
the glow of television illustrates
a just-opened volume of sleeplessness.
Speeding, a white jeep is a mile away.
Hospitals are an idea; long-term care
an additional insurance for the aging.
As headlights hurtle into town, nothing
she notices, the stoplights she crosses
between both reflect red on the panes
of the block’s parentheses of bank
and post office, court house and church.
The first murmur will be locks opening
as, mid-avenue, she presses the fob,
a flicker of headlights simultaneous
with a flood of brilliance, the scene
still muted, her thumb still poised as if
relocking is possible, flung and headlong
erasable, squeal and speechlessness
replaced by fantasy’s swift near-miss that
comforts like the kiss of what’s called
good fortune or, at least, postponement.
The Nocturnal Age
Facts re-enter and refuse to leave.
Hit-and-run shatters the woman.
Barely, she survives through ICU.
For weeks, bedridden. Short distances,
a walker. Charity visits, bringing
a photographer and motor scooter.
Pity looks both ways at the crash site.
Within a week, forensics follows
a white jeep to its nearby home,
alleged pasted to its windshield
like an inspection seal, its driver
rumored to be a public drinker
with a love for slur and stumble.
Over time, anniversaries—one year
since the moment of crime, two years
since test results were promised, three years
since the newspaper mentions her name.
Along that same main street, churches
enter three vacant stores, week-by-week
hissing a trio of reconfiguration hymns.
The former shopkeepers arrive early.
On folding chairs, they sit as quietly
as the truth. They lip-synch the litanies
and refuse to sing. One congregation
hires a roof bolter to drill small holes
into its heavy sky as access for prayer.
The street, the town agrees, is becoming
spirit, the stoplights set to steady dark,
every night an unlit mine where invisible
is a vandal. As costumed as a parable,
it shrivels to an unhappy island where
sympathy embraces a younger lover.
Delays unspool so long that myths form
to explain the end of resolution.
When the woman, despite surgery, dies,
gossip fills with pitchforks and torches,
but decency, tucked carefully away like
glassware, nonetheless has shattered.
The Departure of Memory
Unexamined, scraps and remnants
of the case lie unclaimed. Regret claws
at each village door to beg for food.
Memories relocate to somewhere
furnished with the stuffed settees
of a bygone era. Lies feed where
lawns disappear under honeysuckle.
They sniff the air, satisfied there is
so little danger they can risk exposure.
They crawl closer to the houses,
stuffing themselves on perennials
and stage-whispering reassurances:
“And still.” “And yet.” “Despite that.”
By now, their code is cadenced to
the weakening heartbeat of epitaph.
The Wide, Astonishment of Air
Even before we parked beside his house
sold forty-three years ago to strangers,
my father had begun a catalogue of change.
At the end of the street, two houses down,
the world now ended at a cliff blasted
one lot closer for a widened highway.
My father, from where we were standing,
tried to distinguish an old path become
a wide, astonishment of air. He watched
the windows of that remodeled house
as if expecting the three younger brothers
he’d outlived, the sister a decade dead.
What I could see was the last funeral
in the parlor, my grandfather laid out
three days in the deep gray of Sunday.
What I didn’t tell my father was
that I explored that morning, nineteen
and opening drawers and closets to
search for objects that would utter words
my grandfather would never say.
I didn’t tell him I found white shirts, dark
pants, shoes brown and black and cordovan
while I rummaged for photographs,
listening hard, in their absence, for clues.
I didn’t tell him that before the coffin
was struggled down the steep, wet steps
to Ogrodnik’s sleek hearse, I climbed
to where the attic, years before, became
a small barracks for those four brothers.
By then, I had seen one snapshot of them
arranged on cots like boys already in
basic training for the imminent war.
I fought to enter my father’s life, kneeling
to look through the one small window,
trying to make out what he’d witnessed
in nineteen forty-one, late November,
his wedding less than a week away.
I smeared a space and saw the long-
abandoned steel mill, the vacancy
left between a jeweler and hair salon
by his years-ago razed bakery, sweating
in my white shirt and blue tie, squinting
while I wiped my forehead with the back
of my hand, marking myself with dust.
The house moaned vowels of promise.
Isolation whirred like a host of locusts
while the light fled to where everlasting
lived alone. The heart of an ancient king,
I remembered, was once mummified
with mint and myrtle, frankincense
and daisy. For centuries, that icon
traveled countries like a campaigner.
In that low-slung room, the unbearable
waited like a woman I had paid for.
That was the week, with caution, Japan had
Reopened its amusement parks, roller
Coasters climbing to the precipice of terror.
To stop the spread of virus, the government
Told riders, please, scream in your heart.
Someone, then, had posted a photograph
Of a thrill ride so steep and high it suggested
That parachutes might be required for safety.
Would you ride? she asked, and already there were
Two hundred and seventeen shares, thousands
Of comments that tallied a landslide for NO.
One morning, in Italy, after we had visited
A perfume factory, an inspection so boring
Some of us sat outside to voice indifference,
Our tour bus driver, after a wrong turn, needed
To reverse us. The road, narrow and without
Guardrails, was bordered by a plummet
To a town beside the Mediterranean Sea.
More than once, the driver backed those
In the rear seats to the rare space where
“Poised over nothing” was translated by
Tears, prayers, and screams in their hearts.
Fifty years ago, one week after riding
In a station wagon I drove, a girl died
Beside a Corvette that crashed and
Catapulted her through its windshield.
Decades later, I used that girl’s death
And the loss of her driver’s legs to fuel
A story’s conclusion. What happened
To your friends is not your story’s truth,
An editor explained, asking for a revision
That avoided that inevitable tragedy.
And so I saved them, though ambiguously,
The choices they made perhaps maiming
Or killing them on another reckless evening.
I left her being sped through expectancy,
That thrilling car still poised, unscathed.
Dancing after Surgery
At first, dance short versions
of the walker shuffle while upstairs,
your wife believes you are still
sitting out the sixty-year-old songs.
Next, sway in place, feet planted
while you listen to where your spine
has been altered, the internal stitches,
after weeks, absorbed by your body.
For a few nights, choose slow ballads,
shy and nervous about your body
on its own, shadow dancing with
the permanent suffix of –ectomy,
One evening, deejay up-tempo.
Do a slow, cautious, wallflower Twist,
testing the oxymoron of recovery
before reverting to laments and pleas.
At last, travel to three versions
of the Land of a Thousand Dances
where you know how to Pony
and do the Watusi, where, next up,
you do the Bristol Stomp while
lip-synching Every Day of the Week with
a singer who sounds as if he’s twelve,
believing every suggested promise
of love and sex, watching the stairs
for the wonder of your wife descending
to your altered self, the future
of each day on nothing but repeat,
two minutes of sustainable joy
before discomfort cries “Good night,”
a chaperone in the temporary
promise of a decorated gym.
© Gary Fincke
Gary Fincke’s collection After the Three-Moon Era, won the 2013 Jacar Press Poetry Prize. Other collections have won university press prizes sponsored by Ohio State, Michigan State, Arkansas, and Stephen F. Austin. Individual poems have been published in Harper’s, The Paris Review, Poetry, The Georgia Review, The Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, and other such national magazines.