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.
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).