Gary Fincke


While we crossed the bridge to return
from a resort island restaurant,
my friend’s wife, driving slowly, said,
“Here is where the accident occurred,”
citing carelessness, inattention,
a driver texting while he veered over
the median, so much as murdering
a woman she knew well, the husband
hospitalized, severely injured,
but recovering, by now, for several months.
“Because she was driving,” my friend said.
“Because, like me, he sees poorly at night.”

The following morning, unannounced,
that crash survivor joined my friend and me
for golf. Introduced, I shook his hand
and carried my knowing his misery
like an extra club, even preparing,
if needed, a sentence of consolation.
For three and a half hours I believed
I was being asked to prove who I was
and became, at best, one more retiree
come south in winter and forgotten.
Afterward, over beer, I told my friend I felt
like I was spying in a changing room.

That widower, I learned the next winter,
never played another round with anyone
my friend knew, moving, by late summer,
four hundred miles to be closer to
his daughter or farther from the source
of suffering, as if distance were a way
to peace where the doors could be bolted
against the visitor who never leaves,
who does his laundry late at night and spills
cookie crumbs for which no one confesses.  
My friend’s wife said those in her prayers
were like refugees who had capsized
so close to shore she could see their faces,
the children unbearable, their eyes
expecting explanation to emerge
from the jabber of splash-filled screams.
She recited her verses of comfort
for the absent who had suffered loss
by violence, and though her prayer
was so familiar I could have sung it,
I stayed silent and did not declare
the old, twin pillows of humility and hope
had long ago been moved into hearsay.

Do You Know Them?

Listen, I’m calling to save your children.
You need these details about the drunk,
their flaws and failures, how you should
hate them for believing they can drive.

Listen, she says, to these names, do you
know them? Yes? Maybe? They’re drunk drivers;
here’s the verified list of their dead,
maybe you recognize their names too?

Tell the truth, she says, you’ve driven drunk.
Still there? No, you don’t have to answer,
but don’t you believe you’re the someone
who defeats tragedy with love, whose
constant promises have relatives?

Listen. I finished my last drink and
began to drive, radio so loud
the speaker split. The dark had a scent
like sweat; the light was everlasting.

Don’t hang up. You’ve fathered three children.
Where are they now? Tell me you didn’t
think this call, so late, would begin with
one or the other or the other?


Outside of the factory bar, late twilight,
he said he wanted to make me happy
in a way I would always remember.
The street was as empty as how he heard
“No, thanks,” the polite refusal I made
during my required summer at Heinz.
What he did was offer money, twenty
dollars, to purchase my acquiescence
with a day’s take-home pay while I was
spending thirteen weeks earning my share
of college tuition, using, at last,
my father’s car and darkness
for privacy in a parking lot so close
to the Allegheny River he could
have killed me and dragged my body to dump
there if he had been somebody other
than a man driven by desire, someone
who made me an object he ached to absorb.

Driving home, I turned off the radio
to listen closely to what I was thinking.
That I was a whore now, not the idea
of one who was relying upon using
the try-anything-once excuse. In half
an hour, my father would be sitting where
I had accepted pleasure in a way
he believed was a hellbound sin, and now
I had one more secret that could cast me
from his house into exile, the doors locked
even if I learned to appreciate
what I had lost through abomination.
“See,” that stranger had murmured, “nothing there,”
but I didn’t look. I drove and sat down
with my father who was eating a sandwich
and drinking coffee, preparing himself
for his stand-alone night shift. I described
my warehouse work, the pattern used for the art
of successful stacking, learning secrecy
was as commonplace as the stale, sweet roll
he softened in his second cup of coffee,
saying, “So it doesn’t go to waste,” sharing
that simple satisfaction as a way
of acknowledging he was pleased to hear
I was capable of accepting the need
to work before he ran warm water over
his plate and dark-stained cup, leaving them to dry,
reusable as my limp deflection.

Gary Fincke’s latest collections are The Infinity Room (Michigan State Press, 2019) and Bringing Back the Bones: New and Selected Poems (Stephen F. Austin, 2016). He has published collections with Ohio State, Arkansas, BkMk, and Zoland. His latest book of prose is The Out-of-Sorts: New and Selected Stories (West Virginia, 2017).



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