The 1918 House
My father, whose limp is a stutter,
Says he was born in the epidemic,
The early days, when people survived
Like expected because it was just flu.
In May, he tells me, the cases were
Three day fevers. By June, he says, the flu
Had moved to where it always summers,
Far from the warm weather of families.
My father, who shuffles like those who
Are stared at by children, accepts my hand
For surfaces other than sidewalks
To examine every place where he’s lived.
In September, he tells me, symptoms
Meant death—the coughing of blood, the blue face,
The darkening of feet that said “soon”
In the common language for conclusion.
The lungs, he says, went soggy with blood,
The people drowned for days. The newly born,
He murmurs, were passed over like sons
Of Jews, God’s mercy on our infant breath.
My father, who refuses a cane,
Touches a wall he built in a yard owned
By strangers, pausing on his way to
The beginning, the house where, in the year
Of the Spanish flu, he was first-born
And no one died, where his parents survived
To see themselves chosen, praising God
And good fortune and their lifetimes of work.
On both sides, he says, are the houses
Of victims, sons who enlisted for war,
And he pauses, the porch so different
I have to read the number to prove it.
How winter blessed us, he says, ending
That horror, driving us inside to love.
He asks me to knock on the white door;
He says these people will invite us in.
Gary Fincke is the author of sixteen books of poetry and short fiction, and, in 2004, of Amp'd, a personal account of his son’s life in the rock band Breaking Benjamin. He is a recipient of the Bess Hokin Prize for Poetry, the Rose Lefcowitz Prize from Poet Lore, a PEN Syndicated Fiction Prize, two Pushcart Prizes, and many other honors and awards. His essay, “The Canals of Mars” was reprinted in The Pushcart Essays, an anthology of the best essays from the first twenty-five years of Pushcart Prize volumes. His most recent books include Sorry I Worried You (University of Georgia Press), a collection of short stories, which won the Flannery O’Connor award, and Standing Around the Heart (University of Arkansas Press), a collection of poems. He is the director of the Writer’s Institute and a professor of English at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania.
“The 1918 House” appears in our Summer 2004 issue.