Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

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Gary Fincke

Something Like the Attic

I’m up, as always, before the first light
With the dark birds I can’t identify,
The ones that crowd our maple like a mob.
5:05, July, like the time in red
On the clock radio when I awoke
For the 6:15 to 3 shift at Heinz
Where I worked for two summers, shoveling,
For weeks, dried beans that spilled from broken bags
In boxcars, cleaning up while Funovitz,
The forklift man, parked on the dock to smoke
Because his seniority had earned it.
I looked for rats as I filled the short tubs,
Inhaling the white dust inside something
Like the attic where my father would sleep
To ready himself for night shift, his sheets
Stained so often by sweat they turned yellow,
My mother said, “As if he pissed the bed.”
Weekends, he slept with her on the pull-out
In the middle room of three we rented,
Lying on the white sheets my mother ironed,
On the pillowcases with pink roses
I sometimes saw before my mother slid
Shut the heavy, Saturday evening door,
The thick panel that stayed open all week,
My mother always awake, no matter
How early I rose, even in the dark,
The attic closed against the stink of sleep
And sweat, my mother saying “Listen now,”
Turning me toward the brown birds that nested
On our windowsills, the ones we could hear
Until the traffic to Pittsburgh thickened,
Backed up from the stoplight three blocks away,
Starting to build a neighborhood of horns
And engines in the blue air of morning.

Prairie Schooner, Vol. 84, No. 4 (Winter 2010), p. 19

Gary Fincke

Gary Fincke’s most recent books are The History of Permanence, which won the Stephen F. Austin Poetry Prize, and The Canals of Mars (Michigan State P), a memoir. His collection of stories, Sorry I Worried You (Georgia), won the Flannery O’Connor Prize. He is the Charles Degenstein Professor of Creative Writing at Susquehanna University.

Fincke’s jobs comprise bakery assistant, Heinz Company production line assistant, public school maintenance crewmember, college cafeteria food server, high school English teacher, chair of high school English department, tennis teaching professional, college tennis coach, college English and creative writing professor, and director of a university undergraduate creative writing program.