The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Gary Fincke

The Mussolini Diaries


        A mother and daughter produce thirty volumes of Benito Mussolini's diaries. The older woman perfects Mussolini's handwriting well enough to fool Mussolini's son and a university expert, who exclaims, "Thirty volumes of manuscript cannot be the work of a forger, but of a genius." The Sunday Times of London, eleven years after the forgery is exposed, buys, from those same women, $71,400 worth of pages to publish.

        Starting with ovals, Miss Hartung said, it was time for third grade to master cursive and the use of the fountain pen. "Around, around, around," she chanted. “Dip, swirl, and don’t rest the tip on the paper.” We earned As and inkwells. We had blotters from the bank, last month stamped on each one. March was a comic wind and a valiant vault while we wrote a letter to our parents, signing our names, and I added my perfect signature to where it said BOOK OWNER on the inside covers of every copy of a history book on the shelves in the back of the room, repeating it like a serial I expected to become a novel.

        In seventeenth century England, a religious allegory was published. Entitled A Wordless Book, it totaled eight blank pages: two black for evil, two red for redemption, two white for purity, two gold for eternal bliss.
        In 1738, Hermann Boerhaave died and left one copy of a self-published, sealed book, The Onliest and Deepest Secrets of the Medical Art. The book sold for $20,000 at auction and, when the new owner opened it, everything but the title page was blank.
        Thomas Wirgman arranged his self-published books by page color. He spent $200,000 to produce his work, trying to get the sequence of colors exactly right. Purple, orange, blue, yellow, brown--a possibly sublime first chapter, a pattern to engage all readers. Yellow, green, red, green, yellow, blue. Altogether, he sold six copies, misunderstood like a genius.
        The salesman who wants me to buy a blank book, each of its leather-bound pages white, says they mitigate grief. "Turn the pages slowly," he says. "Linger a bit on each one. You'll see."

        A student is ecstatic about her first publication. She has been sending out letters to editors for several years, reading magazines at random and submitting hundreds of letters on whatever subject moved her to write, perfecting the epistolary mode.

        Once, Gandhi wrote a letter to Charles Atlas, asking, "I wonder if there is some way you can build me up?" He wanted to try Dynamic Tension, the science of pitting one muscle against another. And because Atlas, as he claims, felt sorry "for the poor chap, nothing but a bag of bones," he sent Gandhi his instructions for free.

        During the reign of Ming emperor Yung Lo (1403-1425), an 11,095 volume encyclopedia was compiled and written. Because of its length, it was too expensive to be published.
        Hendrik Hertzberg produced a book called One Million. In varying numbers, each chapter consisted entirely of dots.
        The 1886 Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography contained 84 phony biographies submitted by an unknown correspondent. For years, some of those entries stayed. It took until 1936 to weed out the final fraud.

        One summer I stole the letter to my parents that listed my grades. I changed the F I'd received to a B and retallied my quality points, my credits, and my grade point average. I added up fictitious sums in columns crowded close to the typed numbers I'd altered. As if I were figuring alternate grade points. As if I were anticipating one of my final grades being changed by a sympathetic professor. Something to account for all those diversions, each a reason not to look closely at the lie I'd created because it was temporary and certain to be improved.

        I smiled when I read about the Septuagint, how there were 72 translators, six from each of the 12 tribes of Israel who worked in separate rooms, and when they finished and compared, all of their work was identical. But then all six newspapers in the library began with the same sentence because a celebrity was accused of murder.

        The valentine of coincidence is bordered by old doilies: Some numerologists claim Shakespeare helped write the Bible. The evidence: The King James Version was published in 1610 when Shakespeare was 46 years old; Shake is the 46th word of Psalm 46; Spear is the 46th word from the end of Psalm 46.

        When I was a boy, our house held seven Bibles--King James, the Revised, one with a thick concordance. They lay open to highlighted verses or stood closed beside photographs of owners long dead. Every word in each was true and perfect and surged through the filaments of my body until I glowed with hope. I breathed the dust of generations gone to glory. I memorized, word for word, scriptures selected for the growing boy.

        Vortigern and Rowena is the play William Henry Ireland claimed was written by Shakespeare. Ireland forged love letters from Shakespeare to Anne Hathaway; he wrote the cursive script for a drawer full of personal papers, convincing James Boswell of their authenticity. That play was performed at the Drury Lane Theater in 1796, jeered by the audience, who knew Shakespeare, apparently, better than handwriting analysts did.

        For years a man named William Key claimed the word SEX is visible in Lincoln's beard on every five-dollar bill. For America's confidence, Key explained. It's there as a subliminal surge reminding us to save or spend, with ease, our currency. He published directions to its sighting, and I've followed his map to ink blots which, on every one of the fifty five-dollar bills I've tested, spells nothing.

        "The history of passion will tumble this week," I read, Pennsylvania slicing off a crumbling cliff where rockslides threaten one of its highways. The newspaper suggests a reunion, asking former defacers to gather for an hour, and I park off Route 28, north of Pittsburgh, to read the graffiti of desire. There are dozens of cars, fifty of us looking up at the hand-over-hand history of lust, and I pick out Doreen and Clarice, Monica and Donna, reading nearby faces like name tags at a conference, deciding whether or not they're still paired with Chuck and Ron, Woody and Buck. I think Gary + Sharon, still visible, is a forgery because I can’t remember the boy who risked himself seventy feet above this traffic, that nobody else at the base of this blackboard would have struggled into danger and printed anything but his nickname before he added the full spelling of the girl he'd love forever.

        Alcibiades Simonides, during the 19th Century, forged a manuscript of Homer, sold it to the king of Greece, who first consulted scholars at the University of Athens, each of them saying "Yes" to authenticity.

        A mile from Gary + Sharon, a Dairy Queen has become The Lighthouse Bible Baptist Church. The signboard's letters spell times and themes and ALL WELCOME under the multiple ramps of a bypass. The church bulletin replaces the menu as if you could bend to the sliding glass window to order salvation.

        In the Greenwood Cemetery, two miles above the Dairy Queen church, lies a swath of relatives. Four of these gravesites are flowering, four are not. The geraniums bloom red for my grandmother, two great uncles and one aunt; the other four relatives lie bare. My sister, when I tell her, says, "That's the way I always do it." As if she were singing a chorus after verses I'm supposed to know for the ballad of the favored.

        A student says he's transcribed thousands of words from H. P. Lovecraft because that language makes him the world's greatest writer. "Necrosis," he reads from his notebook. "Mephitic. Nobody else could ever think of those." I offer "emesis" and "lavage," two ways to rid characters of the possession of poisons. He writes both words as if a story were beginning.

        Ern Malley, in 1944, was published in Angry Penquins, a magazine that proclaimed him as one of two giants of Australian poetry. He had just died at 25, the large selection of his poems submitted by his grieving sister. Each one of those poems had been copied, bits and pieces of various books pasted together by two bored soldiers.

        When Nancy Luce wrote poems, she inscribed them on the eggs she gathered, adding the name, when she finished, of the chicken who'd laid that tablet. Like a dedication, since all of her poems were about those chickens she raised and loved, psalms in their praise.

        Verses have been embossed on pins, carved into the walls of caverns and tombs. Poems have been traced in water, fire, and air. My father refused his meals without the brief poem of prayer. He gripped my visitor's hand and recited the rhymed passages of praise and thanks as if I'd gobble that food while he recited over the bacon and eggs that welcomed morning.

        When a criminal named George Cudmore was executed in 1830, his skin was used to bind a book, Milton's The Poetical Works, someone's notion of the odd possession.

        Clifford Irving, in 1971, deceived five handwriting experts hired by his book publisher. All of them agreed it was the genuine Howard Hughes who wrote the supporting documents to verify the authenticity of the interviews for the forthcoming biography. For Irving to forge such an amount of material "would be beyond human ability," said one expert.

        The photographic memory champion lives in Burma, reciting, so far, seventeen thousand pages of Buddhist books. He's memorized all of those volumes; someone else is compelled to read along for verification.

        On the last afternoon of her life my mother wrote and mailed her weekly news to me. After the funeral, after I traveled home, I received her note from the neighbor who'd held my mail. That letter lay warm in my hands; it yellowed and curled from the air I was drawing toward me and the language on the page. The signature in flames, I saw the return address affixed in the envelope's corner as it's supposed to be, insurance against loss.




GARY FINCKE's latest collection is Bringing Back the Bones: New and Selected Poems (Stephen F. Austin, 2016). His newest book is The Killer's Dog, which won the Elixir Press Fiction Prize and was published earlier this year.  The Darkness Call, a collection of personal essays, has been selected as the winner of the 2017 Robert C. Jones Prize for Short Prose and will be published in early 2018 by Pleiades Press and distributed by LSU Press.



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