Union Work by Gary Fincke

Union Work

Get lost somewhere, the supervisor said,
and I didn’t question because summer
was nearly over, that week and one more
before I would return to the college
where I was addicted to being lost.
I walked on the public path where tourists,
some afternoons, huddled while college girls
whose fathers held white collar jobs explained
what was happening in sterilizing
and packaging before escorting them
to a shop that featured plastic pickles,
cartoon ketchup bottles, and hard-cover
pictorial histories of Heinz that
praised baked beans, spaghetti, and a long list
of condensed, canned soups. The locker room, when
I reached it, was deserted, a shift change
hours away. I found a newspaper
and sat against a wall to read about
the Pirates and the racial unrest that
had blossomed again in cities, Newark
lately, Detroit, Cleveland, and Baltimore.
I felt like a thief earning two dollars
and fifty cents for an hour of lost,
a job whose one demand was hiding shame.
I might as well have been cutting one more
calculus class in order to avoid
the simple task of humiliation,
watching my roommate dress and leave before
I rose to get lost where nothing was done
but following the progress of shadows
while I mastered what I already knew.
For small pleasure, I chose an exact time
to stand and go, timing my travel back
to research. Though that clock, like calculus,
didn’t care what I did, advancing while
I wasn’t thankful for the privilege
of union wage for being lost, even
those minutes, walking slowly, to return.


Gary Fincke’s latest collections of poetry are The Infinity Room, which won the Wheelbarrow Books Pize (Michigan State, 2019) and The Mussolini Diaries (Serving House, 2020). Other collections of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction have won the Flannery O’Connor Prize for Short Fiction (Georgia), what is now the Wheeler Poetry Prize (Ohio State), and the Robert C. Jones Prize for Short Nonfiction (Pleaides Press).

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