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THE GREAT CHAIN OF BEING / Gary Fincke "Three generations of imbecUes are enough." Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1927 1 Too Little Air There, on her carpet, we sat Our year-old sons, and my cousin Watched me count the handicaps In her firstborn until I froze Like four legs in the headlights. An accident, the doctor had Told her, too little air, citing The bride thesaurus of cause. 1 nodded like someone saving His job in an office of Ues: Her son crawled Uke he's Ughted On the huge, invisible web Of God. "My sister's boy has A problem, too," she murmured. "Both of us are moving closer To cities so this never Happens again." Too Uttle air In Pennsylvania, in Georgia. Too little air in the room Where we stared from one boy to The other, so quiet, so long, We might have been practicing Conservation, as if that room Had been sealed by landslide, and We were finding the essential, Slow rhythms of survival. 2 Vulcan and the Fire King Planet Vulcan had to be there, hidden between Mercury and the sun. What else, according to Newton, could vary an orbit? What better name For a planet so close to molten, in theory, The Missouri Review · 105 A hideout where Satan might be perfecting heU? But when Vulcan stayed unspotted, the mystique of Congruence stuck science to the keyhole until, Soon enough, the impetus of impatience brought The first sighting, the second, astronomers claiming Discovery. There, they said, pointing the lens. There. And there, the nineteenth-century, fireproof women And men headed playbUls by surviving tortures, Taking advantage of expectation's effect On the eyes, one way we tend the infrastructure Of error, relying, like Christians, upon The necessity of the unobserved, as awed As the audience for "Chabert the Fire King," who Qimbed into his personal woodstove with raw steaks And emerged, later, with a meal, well done, sitting To eat after visiting Vulcan's test kitchen. Soon enough, a royal family of magicians Could enter fire, reappear unscathed, dUuting The Bible with the commonplace of Ulusion. Soon enough, the frequent tracts on explanation, Scientists clamoring their revisionist clues Until, finaUy, the appearance of the cage Of fire, this woodstove open in front to appease The jaded. There, they said, there he is, beUeving Again, the Fire King standing in towering flames Like the personification of a planet. 3 The Little Moron In health class, eighth grade, we learned The descending categories Of the Stanford-Benet: You couldn't do worse, if you Made a mark, than idiot. We knew one who loved Urne soda And laughed at the end of a leash In his backyard. We saw imbecUes Bused in and out of half-days In the resources room, and we told, In the haUs, little moron jokes: The Uttle moron was playing 106 · The Missouri Review Gary Fincke With matches and burned the house down. "Your daddy's going to kül you When he gets home," his mother said, But the Uttle moron laughed and laughed Because he knew his daddy Was asleep on the couch. We laughed and laughed at everything The Uttle moron did. Why would He take his ruler to bed? we asked. He wanted to see how long he slept; And he wanted, joke by joke, To bring the dead metaphors To life—time, butter, and fire Flying out his busy window. "That wUl do," our teachers said. "Three generations of imbecUes Are enough," the Chief Justice said, In 1927, supporting The eugenics Record Office, Which wanted to sterilize everyone Deemed unfit. Harry Laughlin, Superintendent, hoped to eUminate, In two generations, the submerged tenth Of our population. He meant the blind, The deaf, the orphans and the homeless; He meant the poor and the stupid, And the Supreme Court backed him up, Finding a "clear and present danger" In the famUy tree of the Bucks— Who were Ulegitimate and poor; Who were Emma, Carrie, and Vivian Who made enough of these morons, Declared deficient at seven months After this expert testimony: "There is a look about the baby That is not quite normal, but What it is I can...


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