Download PDF Here 13th Anniversary
Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume Three December 2022.
Tet Eve, poems by Gary Fincke.
This morning, a woman whose voice
I hadn’t heard for fifty years called
to tell me that she’d read my poem
that used her dead husband’s name,
her tone so clipped it sounded as if
she was imagining a tiny package
holding nothing but my greasy heart.
The poem described that named boy
and me, college seniors who believed
the menial work forced upon us was
a sort of simulated death, what a dean
had decided we dearly needed.
When my friend Googled his name,
she said, the title appeared, inflecting
those words into an encrypted curse.
As punishment, to give us humility,
we had been made to sweep floors
and collect trash, both of us sober
on a Saturday, twenty-one and proud,
by five p.m., that we had completed
ten hours of service as a lenient
sentence for petty, bad behavior.
Because it was February, we’d called
six hundred minutes the “sunshine shift,”
returning our tools in the near-dark
and standing, for once, among men
who worked weekends at a job
they’d never foreseen as boys, doing
the small, but necessary work that
we wouldn’t be repeating, not if we
used our brains to earn our comfort.
Soon, those men scattered to cars
they idled toward warmth, windshields
clearing bottom to top in rising moons.
From the back of campus, we faced
two miles of walking to where friends
would be sharing beer and music,
and whether it was the twilight cold
or the simple solidarity of work,
one car door opened as an offer.
“Where to?” that driver said, the two
of us crowding beside him upon
a stiff bench seat, the heater full-blast
on our feet while my friend guided him
through one light and two left turns,
shaking his hand before spilling us
into the just-beginning snow still
blocks from our Greek-lettered house.
As if my friend wanted that janitor
to believe we weren’t the spoiled sons
of distant fathers, he kept us standing
in front of a cheap apartment until
that car u-turned and disappeared.
And maybe, because that boy, now
nameless here, kept talking about
how well we’d cleaned, his bare hands
gesturing in the flurries, he was
already enlisting, his future so close
and so brief, it was forever forming
that woman’s brutal, celebratory grief.
During the first summer
of the Salk vaccine, whether
we entered the woods
or not, our mother, each night,
examined us for ticks.
She made us stalk and swat
every fly our screen door
carelessness had invited in.
Over and over, she warned us
never to swallow the water
of the lake where we swam.
Not once, that year, did she
discover an embedded tick.
The flies, eventually, would
transform into sitting targets.
But one afternoon, vigilance,
with bullhorn and uniforms,
ordered us out of the water.
Firemen had arrived to sling
and lower a grappling hook,
making passes from a boat
they had expertly launched.
An exercise, our mother said,
for practice, and made us watch,
shivering, as if those volunteers
had turned the clouds into twilight,
a chill, though she wrapped us
in towels, clinging to our groins.
At last, the firemen brought up
a body, the lake water pouring
from its limp arms and legs
as they extended their arms
to embrace it, securing the dead.
One man knelt and began
to knead. My mother crouched
behind us, her fingers gripping
and releasing our shoulders
in that rehearsal’s rhythm,
until, when that boat docked,
she removed her hands, stood,
and began to applaud, the sound
of approval rippling through
the scattering of onlookers,
then going so quickly faint
that when she stopped, what
we could still hear seemed
to come from underwater.
A Times Square crowd broke and bolted following a car’s backfire
— News Item
Yesterday, at our local grocery,
my wife pointed out three
open-carrier families, the armed
walking beside small children
who squabbled over whose
turn it was to push bright red
future-customer shopping carts.
Our neighborhood, last night,
peered from darkened windows
at the sound of knocking going
door-to-door after nine p.m.
Text messages lit our bedroom,
uneasy flurried to fear
like a forecasted winter storm
until all of us were overheard.
Tomorrow, my daughter will return
to the church where her art school
for children, four to fourteen, is housed
two blocks from last weekend’s
mass shooting at her grocery store.
She knew a victim, one of the dead.
She said she felt saved, for now,
by ordinary delays, her dog slow
to finish, a load of towels not quite dry.
This week, she says, the mediums
will be water color and acrylic painting,
projects arranged by age and experience.
She expects scatterings of queries
about security, mothers who will
notice the homeless served lunch
by the parish, a father who will ask
about the weekly AA meeting
held inside a downstairs room,
whether, now, she will consider
locations dedicated exclusively to art,
or, at least, her plan for emergencies,
the details of the lockdown drills
she will ask his daughters to master,
testing, as he speaks, the strength
of the door, the challenge of its lock.
© 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.