PSSC Summer Scholarship
The Rusty Barrel
first published in The Whale
Above acres of yellow-grey stubble
it stood, eaten through with holes. No one
ever emptied its heavy ash that rose
higher than a small child.
You, my first real boyfriend, were ugly.
You had a big nose, but your car was cool.
Together we fed the barrel
red and green tissue of Christmas,
our chapped hands brushing its burnt-black barrel’s
sienna grit. I, wearing the new pink
cardigan you’d bought me, and with your senior
ring around my neck, struck the match.
My father’s harsh voice, even on Christmas:
Watch the trash. The grass is dry.
We kissing, for you were good, and I
shunned his words, needing to brush them off my skin.
The fire started small, in patches, clumps—
but spread like tails of roosters in a cock fight,
bunch for bunch, then faster,
icy cold air frost from breath
sweat drenching my new sweater
smoke in throat, hair, skin.
We pummeled the ground with brooms
on either side of barbed wire fence.
His rage at me outswept the fire.
We beat it down, this time.
You asked for your ring back.
I boxed up the sweater, unwashed,
still smelling of smoke.