Cheap Gas

by Brenda Hillman

Brenda Hillman

That dithyramb of ticky-tick, boom,
brrrrr we hear when we lift
the nozzle, pull back on the black rubber
and shove it in—

the noise hums to a bigger rumble,
practically shakes the self-serve pump;
probably it’s the ancient forests
growing higher, reversing the Pleistocene—
they’re refusing to become Techroline Super-Unleaded,
the trees have decided not to leave their bodies
in the rotting executive swamps.

Blackened thumbs hold the credit card slips
in the clipboard, the sweet young
men tear off “customer copy,”
look us in the eye. Their names in wilted
red letters over their hearts:
Jake, Carlos, Todd with two d’s. We should
read the names carefully through fumes
rising from rainbows of spilled gas on the station floor,
still pretty cheap. Full tank 13.69.

Removing the nozzle we should notice,
when the vagrant drop falls down, the liquid is still
pretty golden, pink dominates for an instant,
then forgets.
Doesn’t look like the blood of young men,
liquid from bodies: tears, semen, blood, urine,
acids, the yellow drop
of cheap gas has all those in it. Bodies lie
in the sand and the ancient forests feel them over
and over and stop growing—

The Hanging Gardens of Nebuchadnezzar had one
of each kind of flower. We didn’t bomb those.
The cruel king walked there with his personal servants;

we are his now.
We are tending the waters of cheap gas
where they fall. By the waters, slaves
lived for generations. By the waters
of Babylon they moved and spoke—

Loose Sugar

Last updated December 17, 2022