November 1999

Don Finkel

Don Finkel Of Donald Finkel’s 14 books, two have been nominated for the National Book Critic’s Circle Award, another was a finalist for the National Book Award, and his most recent received the Dictionary of Literary Biography’s 1994 Yearbook Award. A Guggenheim Fellow and a recipient of grants from the NEA and the Ingram Merrill Foundation, he taught for 41 years at Washington University in St. Louis and served as a visiting professor at Bennington College and Princeton University. He is now retired and lives in St. Louis.

At the Shrine     Click to hear in real audio

Grunting and shoving, punctilious Muslims,
Talmudic Jews, Old-Testament Christians
jostling one another.
                                                 The dead look down
on the scene in wonder, pondering what
celestial unction might lubricate
this witless friction.
                                           Yet the dead remember
an unlikely pause: two lying beatified,
breast to breast, the point of their quarrel
past recall.
                            So the dead look down
and hold their breath, for the dead have time
if nothing else.



Burden     Click to hear in real audio

Nouns were the first to slip away.
Was it because they were easier to forget,
or the most dispensable?

Funerals back then were milling
with nouns whose names he'd forgotten,
if he'd ever met them.

Evidently, somewhere out there
a swarm of improper nouns
had prospered and multiplied.

Odd nouns came knocking every day
looking for work, till the old bard
left off answering the door.

Verbs were beasts of another persuasion.
For a while some stayed behind,
pacing the halls or curled on the living room sofa.

But they had to be fed. Some nights
they sank their claws in his thigh
when they were hungry.

As the last syllable crept away,
he felt a peculiar lightness,
like the wisp that rises,

from a smoldering wick—
as if words were the burden
he'd been bearing, all his life.




Don Finkel: Poetry
Copyright 1999 The Cortland Review Issue NineThe Cortland Review