Engagement Picture by a Barn
We lucked upon this abandoned spot
on a country drive—to get away, we agreed.
Having grown behind stone and timber,
the hum of a Kenmore unit damming sweat
beneath our skin, we wanted to return to wheat that,
if we trace far enough back, delivered us here.
But crabgrass stalking the overgrown precipice
annoys our bare ankles. Barn swallows sputter
and shit from rotting beams, horse flies orbit
the musty years of rot inside, and beetles twitch
under our shirts, climb the rungs of our spines.
Night removes its gloves to bludgeon the sky.
There is no streetlight to catch
and cradle us from falling inside it.
Time to go, we agree, vowing to remember
with desire each warped slat and rusted nail,
as though we could tell this story at parties,
as though we could catch the dead passing through:
cows that dribbled milk, farmers and their children
who dug holes for something buried deep,
for something we couldn’t even guess,
who struck the dirt with blades like anchors.
Driving I-24 through Kentucky at night, I think how easy it would be
Miles and miles of frayed ribbon,
graveyard, shoelace, skinny tie.
Index finger twelve to six,
all it would take
to flatten ditch weeds,
cornstalks, peel sheaths
off the car with a tree trunk.
The night will hawk you
from its throat, easy enough.
And face it, the dog at home
would hug the doormat
only so long, and there would be
a spark of relief somewhere deep
inside your lover. The silence
would be tremendous.
Field on field cut with latticed vein,
zipper, cello string, patched quilt.
They would stake a roadside cross,
garland it with wildflowers.
Folks would pass.
Nobody would think to forgive you.
Breakdown, Bakertown Road
We finished the day’s last suicides,
line work, wind sprints from one wall
to the other, and when we stepped from the gym
into winter—near-empty high school lot
sprawled before us like a blank shore—
steam rose from our gleaming necks
like the coiling away of purpose.
Cold gusts burned our aching limbs,
and nothing fit my brother’s hands anymore,
not the basketball or stack of textbooks
or steering wheel, and I didn’t realize
the two years between us were more than days
and hours. When he drove us home
there was silence like a ball’s slow deflation,
and I had no clue what, beyond the ease of habit,
kept him from letting one of those back-road curves
swallow and thresh our bodies to chaff.
That afternoon rain froze into needles,
plunged slantwise. Over the crest of a hill
on a one-lane road, we both saw it
in the wash of high beams, a hatchback dead
and half in a ditch, a woman turned
toward the backseat, her silhouette sharp
in dusk that tumbled across the fields.
What did I know of the aliens inside my brother’s chest?
He spoke to the woman and her three children
as though he’d been, in another lifetime,
a soft redness falling, rocking back and forth
from a dogwood to the ground, or an ocean tide
massaging a beach’s knotted shoulders.
I’m thinking now if he'd sped by
and hadn’t packed them into our backseat,
hadn’t laid our jackets across their laps,
hadn’t driven them fifteen miles
in the opposite direction, it’s likely nothing
would have changed. The next year
we still would have skipped our grandfather’s
funeral for a party. That stranded mother
would have done what she had to, waved down
someone else or hiked to the nearest house,
youngest straddling her neck, the others tucked close.
The gym where we dribbled and squeaked our shoes
and dripped sweat onto hardwood is not haunted
by our forgetting of it. Where we stood that night, the ditch
where we left the car, is now air over mud and weeds.
All that’s left is my brother’s hands, fuller,
and how he buried them in his pockets, how he walked
the mother and her children to their door,
how he turned away only after the lights switched on.
Austin Kodra is an MFA candidate at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Harpur Palate, Concho River Review, Mason's Road, Barnstorm, Prime Number Magazine, and elsewhere.