The Trip to Bountiful by Gary Fincke

The Trip to Bountiful

“When you’ve lived longer than your house and family,
you’ve lived long enough.”
          – Carrie Watts

For her last visit, my mother
arrived by bus. Conversation
was penance. Apology a charm.
The VCR worked a miracle
that fed the afternoon.
Downstairs, the weather
headed north, the house
six months old, surrounded
by infant shrubbery
and small, vulnerable trees.
Geraldine Page has died,
my mother said while
sorrow and wistfulness
settled in even before
the house in Bountiful
loomed catastrophic with loss.
My mother, throughout,
concentrated as if she had
fallen in love with longing
for the impossible.
And I, become companion,
allowed her, with rewind
and pause, to absorb
the expressive face
of a woman who wanted
nothing more than altering
the foreseeable future.
In the near dark, I allowed
the unspooling of credits,
extending her privacy
all the way to copyright
in what I believed was
generosity grand enough
to be labeled love.
Then we sat together as
empathy embraced us
like a shy, new arrival
until my mother settled
into her silence, the one
with rhythm so familiar
it was performed with no
accompanist but memory.


Gary Fincke’s collections of poetry have been published by Arkansas, Ohio State, Michigan State, BkMk, Lynx House, Jacar, and Serving House. His next collection, For Now, We Have Been Spared, will be published by Slant Books in 2024.

What the Doctor Said, What I Answered by Gary Fincke

What the Doctor Said, What I Answered

Yesterday, when asked to number my pain
from one to ten, I’d said seven, maybe,
or six, although nothing but ten would have
driven me twelve miles to expose myself.
How privacy is ceded to rescue,
and yet, even now, my C-Scan upon
the specialist’s screen, I remain stubborn
in dishonesty, my panic the white
of all colors for fear. This close to oncology,
I hear myself form “I understand,” beginning
to accept like the fool who waives his rights,
and though that doctor insists I might walk
away intact, I can’t shut myself up.
No matter what she qualifies, I talk
and talk, thinking I’ll get to it, this thing
I am working up to, how the slender grace
of benign can still be earned through
biopsy, its bright, fluttering peace
settling warily upon a branch, so close
just breathing sometimes startles it away.


Gary Fincke’s collections of poems have been published by Ohio State, Michigan State, Arkansas, BkMk, Lynx House, Jacar, and Serving House.

The Day Your Father Dies by Gary Fincke

The Day Your Father Dies

Three time zones east, while you sleep
in your travel-vouchered hotel suite,
the ambulance, pulsing red, but mute,
arrives for your father. Your sister,
discreet, waits for what she believes
is a decent hour, her morning nearly
ended before she places her call.

Because you mark this moment,
you will always know that the first
of six job-candidate interviews,
right then, is eight minutes away.
While you fix on absence, your colleague
carries three morning conversations;
you make phone calls during lunch.

When, during the afternoon, you begin
to season your questions with banter,
the candidates are quick to smile.
Your rooms are swept and scoured while
you overhear strangers toast each other
before dinner in an expensive restaurant
so close you can walk there, then back

to where the hours, their voices hushed,
reuse their condolences throughout
your all-night sleeplessness. A plane
taxis to its gate with no plans but waiting
for you to board just after sunrise, exiting,
then entering two versions of winter, light
about to be altered by accumulated snow.


Gary Fincke’s collections have won what is now the Wheeler Prize (Ohio State) and the Wheelbarrow Books Prize (Michigan State). His latest collection, The Mussolini Diaries was published by Serving House in 2020.

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).