Christopher Ankney

Antifreeze fertilized the pickup's floorboard
and the man who always advises me how to fix
my unbroken life says to watch where I put my feet.
We're both adults now, years from the unspoken
roles sown in our mother, then germinating
from her womb. Planted there by men
that wouldn't last, we have always been
a different species of man. Neither, though, flower
people, experts in nature, so we have little
to say of how the other goes through life.
At least, this is how I explain our stodgy lips.
I rather we didn't talk of the Browns
and how they're always so close to being good,
because I have the Bears and Chicago
's a city coming together for a Super Bowl
nobody outside the suburbs thinks we'll win.
Instead, I sit shotgun, listen to the tires
crackle over salted road. I hear the rocks coughed up
like blood from his throat when Indianapolis cops tenderized
his seventeen-year-old stomach; then tossed
him in an unmarked van with the other scraps
of meat entrapped at a Phish concert. His friends
went on without him, came back to Ohio
probably too fucked-up off acid sheets
they had left after handing Joe enough to scalp
a ticket. It was then I learned to hate an entire
state. I spent this morning with an invisible string
tied around my stomach, pulling me along from subway
to commuter train to the steamy breath of the exhaust
waiting to pick me up at the end of the line
at the South Bend Airport station. My brother's truck
running a sign of his impatience more so than it being cold.
Even a straight line through Indiana wasn't short enough
to stop the conversation's sputter. Always the passenger,
over-thinking the past; there's little variation
outside on these trips back to Defiance.

We passed the wetlands pocketed
so close to the highway seam, and I realize, only
a people with little imagination could live here
and smear out beauty with one heavy, gray line
through the middle of nature. I'd no reason
to talk of manly things like football or drink or fucking
pretty women, though each has it's worth. 
Another year and I await the usual factory
of questions sliding out of Joe's conveyor-belt
tongue: whether I've stuck it to anyone new.
It doesn't matter how long Lynn and I
have slept in the same bed. Where we are from,
not the little town, but the growing up with man
after man rubbing our heads and giving us their best
smiles, or the one's with enough money
slipping us a dollar, or ten—where we're from
you don't stay close to anyone but the one's
that stick around. That's why Joe still hangs
with the same people who left him to an orange
jumpsuit in Noble County, Indiana, even if
our mother and I were the ones crying for two weeks,
a strangling of phone calls before we got the money
to give a bail bondsmen to save him from that place.

I've left him, he thinks, and the rest of  "it",
"for a better life." He imagines an English teacher
can get "mad pussy," and even if he's right,
he's just trying to measure how wooden
I've become since the last holiday visit
when his constant knocks had me screaming
in front of our mother and sister what a prick
he could be. I know he doesn't want my hands
to be hammered in as he thinks his are, stuck or lost
on a wall like a bent nail, unable to straighten out.
He's always let his chest speak for him, a family
trait seen in our uncles and cousins. He's a father
fighting laws of nature, the laws of Ohio, staying
in his boy's life: the girl he met in a coat closet
and had sex with there in the dark within minutes,
the girl who screwed herself into our lives,
into our home like an unusable shelf, wants
to take his son to West Virginia, with another man.
Another child forms in her spoiled belly. But Joe,
unlike his father and those dead men
who put custodial laws in the state books, needs
his son to have him. So he won't turn off
the advice, even if he thinks I'm barely listening.




My brother, in reality, has never picked me up from the South Bend Airport. He's never said to me at least one of the bawdy quotes! It's true, I don't really like Indiana much. Brothers have strange relationships. Time blurs together, an entire winter even, is rarely divvied up into individual, linear days, hours, moments. We (or at least, I do) remember, instead, by hog-tying memories and seasons up into chunks: that day we went to the Flowing Rivers Festival and I was scared by the Ferris wheel, that summer you partied like it's '63 (I wasn't born yet), that year you got braces. Any linearity in this poem's events is created by the truck ride, a lasso. A long ride.