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

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

And I can still smell the gas
from more than 20 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 looked 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 in a cocoon of 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 upriver, away
like father, the attic, his ties.

<“Gasoline” placed 3rd in the Ver Poets Open Poetry Competition>