The Ghost of Hamlet’s Father worked the night shift
At the grocery store. You could see him
Weighing lunchmeat in the deli section.
What a falling off that was, to watch
The great man at the sliver, the armored
Blade whirring deeply as the meat pressed in.
He knew exactly what to cut to make
One pound, though sometimes on the scales he used his thumb.
My cousin the policeman finds a finger
In the ruins at Ground Zero. He puts it
In a bag and takes it to a place where other
Severed limbs and clothing and some personal
Effects are being gathered. The pieces
Are piled in hopeless disarray. My cousin
Is a good man with a broad, kind face. The face
In the bag points everywhere he goes.
David Keplinger’s “Finger” first appeared in Issue 65-66 of the minnesota review. Keplinger reflects on writing the poem: “I wrote this piece about ten years ago, just after the 9/11 attack. My cousin did work as a policeman in its aftermath. I was writing a book at the time which paired objects and images in poems of equal length, two to a page. That poem was later included in my book, The Prayers of Others. And a portion of it also appears in my new book, The Most Natural Thing. It’s interesting to look back on it now, because these short, imagist pieces would go on to define ten years of my writing life. I didn’t know that at the time. I still think the poem offers a glimpse at the shock I was, we were all, experiencing, a kind of flat toned deadened-of-feeling existence, in which anything can happen next.”
Keplinger has published four books, The Rose Inside (Truman State), which was chosen for the T.S. Eliot Prize by Mary Oliver, The Clearing (New Issues Press), a short-listed finalist for the Akhmatova Prize, and The Prayers of Others (New Issues Press), which won the Colorado Book Award. In 2013 New Issues will publish his collection of prose poems, The Most Natural Thing. He is a member of the faculty at American University, where he directs the MFA Program. Keplinger has received an NEA Fellowship for his poetry, as well as grants from the Danish Council on the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac. His poems were translated into Chinese in the 2011 Beijing anthology, Contemporary American Poetry and he has been included in 2008’s New Voices: Contemporary Poetry from the United States, published by New Pages in Belfast. His translations of Nielsen include House Inspections (BOA) and World Cut Out with Crooked Scissors (New Issues Press).