A week ago I spilled
a can of gasoline onto the dirt
floor of the barn.

A full gallon soaked into the earth.
Since then, I’ve had headaches,
can’t catch my balance.

And I can still smell the gas
from twenty yards away.
It reminds me of hitching west

and this ride I hooked
in the back of a truck
the color of rust.

When I shook the driver’s hand
he smiled, his teeth like a caterpillar,
and I knew I was beat.

The guy kept all these rags back there
soaked in gasoline. It was warm
and I fell asleep cocooned in reek.

When I came to, it was almost time
to get out. I could feel caterpillars on me,
thought I was going to suffocate.

He said the free ride was over, it was
only a matter of time, and I didn’t wish
to be out west, didn’t care to sit
in any more cars with strangers and talk
about the pace or weather back east.

I tried to lose the smell in a stream,
thought I sent it downriver, away
like father, the attic, his ties.

First published in the Ver Poets Open Poetry Competition chapbook (2007), revised for Oxford Poets 2010: An Anthology (2010) and collected in Tomorrow, We Will Live Here, 2010.