- Father Belongs to the River
And not to the gun-slinging shadow sitting shotgun in a brown banana-boat at the drive-thru bank.
Or the teller with an unsure voice was the last person known to see him breathing. Or the rust-mottled fishing tackle warping on his back porch. Or the inhaler used to pry his esophagus open, skillful as a cat burglar letting in the wind.
Or his mother, whose bob was always a little suspicious.
Or his father who died when I was weeks into this world. Or my mother who loved him too late, and is stuck justifying her lost love to her adult son.
And every visit there is less and less mentioning of how he once stole back everything he’d bought her, his blood shot with a swig of jealousy at some man my mom never dated, or fucked.
It occurs to me, the infamous couch my sister always speaks of, taken as well, serves as backdrop in the sepia of a year-old me and a fractured him on all fours in a happy moment.
But he doesn’t belong to me, captured bucking at life; the picture nothing but a picture of a time I am too young. I did not know him as my father, only understood his love through touches which kept my little body from trouble.
And he is not owned by my aunt who paid for the lawyer who settled his life [End Page 191] into a monetary number, handed to my mother in monthly installments.
And he is not owned by the factories for which he paid his time in hot darkness.
And he is not owned by the story of his disappearance, or the stories of his death.
And the father I want remains a collage, badly constructed, sticky, fluid as the Maumee, which took him and kept him until, inside, I knew he was dead.
And his body remains the earth’s, though his bones pour out memories.
And when he is ash he is ash and he is licked by every tongue of wind this town has ever seen.
Christopher Ankney’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Columbia Poetry Review, Crab Orchard Review, DIAGRAM, Gulf Coast, and Third Coast, among others. He lives in Chicago with his wife, Lynn, and enjoys spending summers hiding from the sun.