Feeling bulletproof, snug 
in my Redwings and Wranglers, 
I sunk the mattock’s iron 
tooth in the ditch wall,  
setting pace for the others.  
My meal’s plug pressed  
under my rib, my mouth thick  
with sweet tea and the cigarette  
shared behind the shed. 
I was just starting to glisten 
with sweat when, crinkling  
like cellophane, a buzzing clung 
to my face. My scream lifted 
a tree full of grackles. I stumbled,  
sucker-punched, stung.  
Then Rick, our captain, old sailor 
with blue-anchored arms, 
was telling me to hold still.  
He pried my hands  
from the sting, and digging  
out his chaw, smeared it across 
my cheek. His eyes bleared 
in their lizard folds. This close,  
he smelled like pine tar.  
He said nicotine would null 
the venom, one poison 
for another. The tobacco’s tang  
made my eyes swim, 
and I hung back the rest  
of the afternoon, afraid  
to wash off the salve, the spit  
and scald of Rick’s love. 
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