The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Gary Fincke



In the crowded airport, its escalator
steepened by my luggage and fatigue
and a nudge in the back, I remember
someone telling me that a student has sued
her college because it failed to account
for her allergies to escalators, tall
people and cactus, laughable until
my student claimed I towered over him,
that the offered chair in my office was set
so close to the cactus on a bookshelf
that he was afraid to sit straight, and when,
some days, I followed him down the stairs,
he was terrified I’d shove him from behind.

College counselor, I thought, good luck,
but a week ago, arms loaded with books,
I reevaluated those stairs,
calling up Michael Moyer, who shoved
a classmate down the thirteen wooden steps
of our elementary school, the ones
that ended in cement painted the silver
and blue of our school colors, the surface
slick across our mascot’s sled-dog face.
Cradling seven volumes, I felt dressed
like a victim, recollecting how
spelling, geography, and arithmetic
flew from the hands of Paul Kelman before
he followed those textbooks down the steps
to concussion and a broken arm while
our teacher shouted, “You crazy boy, you!”

The week before, in Life, a psychiatrist
had explained play therapy, using a boy,
aged ten, who heaved clay against the life-sized
scrawled drawing of his brother, the body
chalked on the wall like the dead. The patient
declared he was happy now, and though not
exactly in love with that hated brother,
he’d stopped screaming, “I want to kill you!”
like Michael Moyer standing so still
at the top of the emptied staircase,
he could have been scribbled on the air.

That woman who sued claimed an allergy
to mauve, the pale purple shortening her breath.
My student drew pictures of stabbings
on the blue-lined white of notebook paper,
the victims unclear until two hallmates
recognized themselves by the added touch
of monograms, school counselor not half
of it then, dismissal immediate.
Though after he was expelled, I moved
that small cactus to a windowsill,
telling myself more light would make it thrive.
Within weeks it shriveled, inexplicable.
A secretary who examined it
proclaimed I’d overwatered, equating
full sunlight with insatiable thirst,
tending it so frequently I’d killed it.

Gary Fincke



In October 1955, in Kentucky,
When the unearthly light wavered
Across the McGehee’s harvested field,
The little green invaders were armed.

They laid a perimeter around
The farmhouse, and unprovoked, fired
Their alien bullets, but luckily
The McGehees owned four shotguns

And didn’t hesitate to use them,
Saving themselves and presumably,
Us, the midgets retreating to blast off
For a planet where household defense

Has been outlawed, some peace-loving place
Easily conquered, its inhabitants
Nothing like the honest, sober,
And religious McGehees, who swore

On their personal, family Bibles
Every fantastic word was true.
And consider this, the oldest
Of the McGehees, within a week,

Suffered a fatal heart attack,
An accidental martyr
For the ongoing safety
Of believers and skeptics alike.




GARY FINCKE's latest collection After the Three-Moon Era won the 2015 Jacar Press Poetry Prize and was published in February.  His next book is Bringing Back the Bones: New and Selected Poems, which will be published in April by Stephen F. Austin University.  He is the Charles Degenstein Professor of Creative Writing at Susquehanna University.



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