Gary Fincke: "Assessing the Dead"




When Gettysburg’s dead, years buried, 

were unearthed for removal 

to national cemeteries,

someone was hired to separate

Union from Confederate,

making certain the loyal

were rewarded, relying,

of course, upon jacket color, 

but when difficult to tell, 

shoe make and the quality 

of underwear to qualify

for graves marked well-deserved.


My sister, twice, has studied 

photographs to perfect display,

learning which necklace our mother 

wore with her blue, Sunday-only 

lace-trimmed dress, how, exactly, 

our father’s awards were arranged

for ceremony when he put on

his scoutmaster's uniform,

placing those reframed portraits 

alongside both coffins like  

mirrors or proof of love.


And now we’ve learned elephants

investigate the bones of their dead

by smell and touch, using the tips 

of their trunks to caress what’s left.

And yes, sometimes the young can 

Identify their parents, 

lingering longer to inspect, 

or, we like to imagine, 

reflect.  And whether saddened 

or comforted by the ordeal 

of recollection, they examine

the contours of the whitened skull.

Which is how reverie begins.

Then how it ends in turning away,

the necessary going on.


Gary Fincke's latest collection of poetry is After the Three-Moon Era, which won the 2015 Jacar Press Poetry Prize.  His next book will be a collection of selected poems from Stephen F. Austin University Press.