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  • Learning the In-Words, and: The Casual Slurs
  • Gary Fincke (bio)

Learning the In-Words

The summer my cousin became an angelI gripped his coffin right-handed and carriedHis body to where all six of us Fincke boysWere turned into children again, directedBy a stranger's hand to the leather couchesOf an enormous car. Inside the fingersOf my right hand, a white groove darkened to red,Then vanished, while silence shouldered among usUntil Keith, nobody's brother, was absence.

The last time I'd seen Keith he'd looked as paleAs an angel. He'd held both his hands againstHis head as if he was listening closelyFor the shallow breath of God, but that morning,Among my cousins in that car, I becameA boy who believed he was the only oneEight years old who understood he was alone.

The suited driver watched us in the mirror.I tried, each time his eyes flicked over and up,To stare what I'd learned into his memory.There was war with no winner in Korea,Communists who whispered darkness while we slept.No one talked about the inconceivableWhile I'd been learning the in-words: incomplete,Incurable, inconsolable, incensed.

As if I'd stolen them from my aunt's black handbag,I kept those words to myself, afraid to spend them. [End Page 83]

The Casual Slurs

Early in an evening of remembering death,I tell my friend that after the Kent State shooting,After students like me went home and waited outOur anger, the police came armed to Jackson StateLike a recreation of the Ohio Guard.They herded those students, I tell him. They backed themAgainst the front wall of a dorm and suffered stonesAnd bricks until they opened fire as if they'd lovedThe headlines from the week before, emulatingThe Midwest's faux-army, sustaining their gunfireThirty seconds with an armory of weapons.

Almost five hundred times, I say, they hit that dorm.Two dead, twelve wounded, all of them "nigger students"According to the cop who called in the shooting.That speaker's nickname was "goon," something historyCan't make up, his casual slurs, on tape, leachingInto the voiceless future to poison language,The violent separations that mark our speechThough we've forgotten their indecipherableBeginnings, ones like birth and the early years, whatWe hear about from the mouths of those who love us,Their stories working to share the unknowable. [End Page 84]

Gary Fincke

Gary Fincke's most recent poetry collection is Standing Around the Heart (Arkansas). His collection of stories, Sorry I Worried You, won the Flannery O'Connor Prize and is available from the University of Georgia Press.



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pp. 83-84
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