- My Brother Arrives in Kansas
At Pine Bluffs the gauzy statue of the Virgin Mary wades up to her waist in stars on a rise by the interstate. At her feet are rent pipes, rusty valves, and other industry castaways. At Sydney, Nebraska, the huge pentagon of a sporting goods store sleeps, the eyelids of its great shipping bays flickering with dreams. Its enormous air-conditioning units reek steam plumes into the air. Sunrise is an hour off, but already the sky to the east is bluing, and the ragged shapes of cottonwoods drift wildly along the river bottoms. Few workers are upon the roads. Farmers creep among their herds in hay trucks. My dog sleeps in a tight curl on the next seat. She knows that this is not a duck hunt but a larger migration.
I stop at a gas station for fuel and to stretch. The cashier is half asleep. On his knuckles are letters tattooed in Celtic font. They say BLUE. The coffee is acrid. I pay with a credit card. Outside, colonies of insects clatter and click among the lamps of the gas island. Spider lattices drip from the light fixtures like saliva. A breeze carries the earthy, barnyard smells of Sydney’s declining cattle kingdoms. The land radiates heat, a baked-in heat from the day before. I feel it through my soles. A train waits on the tracks, the engine hissing. It is late August, the day after I left Wyoming for good, and the air feels heavy with manure and insecticide and, perhaps, the funky smell of the slow river. This journey, I realize, is ill advised, an effort to surprise even myself, my new habit of imagining something reckless and then pursuing it. I feel weak, and I feel regretful. Who would move from Laramie to fucking Kansas? I think. Turning around and sailing west crosses my mind. I could make Laramie by noon, get a 12-pack of light beer and be up on Rock Creek by the late [End Page 1] afternoon. I could restore my life to one of those places where brook trout come easy, a place where my dog wanders without a leash. But I drive on toward Kansas only because, at this point, it would be cowardly not to keep going. I have already accepted a job there. My mother and brother are meeting me the next day in Calypso, Kansas, to help me get settled. I have to dare myself to put the truck in drive.
By noon I am descending the broad fertile plains along the Republican River. The landscape sprawls in mile sections, perpendicular dirt roads, corner fences strung with plastic bags, and more monoculture than I thought possible. We stop again for fuel and I turn Sweets loose in the thistle to search for a place to pee. She huffs the ground searching for bird scent but finds none. There are some customers, other travelers, who have stopped for sodas and snacks. Two of the children run to my dog. She looks exactly like Candy, they cry. They kneel by her and stroke her ears. They swoon falsely and say openly that they feel sorry for her. Then, upon smelling their hands, they sprint to the restroom to wash.
I drive through hamlets with names that ring with familiarity, as if I should know them: Hebron, Beloit, Geneva, Glasgow, and Scandia. But it is not what you think; it is all farmland, with thick stands of dark timber marking the creek bottoms. Each town offers a day care, a defunct pool hall, a collection of churches, and at least one house with a trampoline out front. And then I see it: Calypso, the buoyed county seat, its white grain elevators, and its nunnery, its co-op where farmers stand around in filthy overalls and fill their gas tanks with a Calvinistic enthusiasm that frightens me. A donut shop exists, just barely, wedged between a feed store and the county vet. There is a row of shotgun houses and some vacant, rusted limestone buildings that suggest a brutal and forgotten pre-civilization there by the railroad tracks. Someone attempts...