War On Drugs by Andrew Shields

He showed me the way across the vacant lot
to the gap in the line of trees and the hole in the fence
he thought he was the only one to know.
Something scratched my leg, a thorn or a barb,
but I did not bleed. We jumped across a creek
that was little more than a ditch for runoff,
Coca-Cola bottles, and a snake or two.
He parted the leaves to reveal a triangle of logs
around the ashes of everything he’d burned,
newspaper balls and twigs and charcoal and sticks
he’d lifted from the flames, as he soon would show me,
to light his joints. Yes, that was why he’d taken me there,
to get me stoned, but not so I would learn
to love the smoke he blew toward me. He said:
“This is marijuana. I want you to try it
so you’ll know you don’t need to smoke it again.”
His impromptu fire was burning down beside us;
the flies and mosquitoes were avoiding the little clearing.
He held the joint and waited while I pondered
how to say no. And if I’d said yes? The smoke
would have blown away, just as it did, and we
would have jumped the creek and passed the gap
in the fence and the hole in the trees, just as we did,
and crossed the vacant lot. And I’d have moved
across the country, just as I did, and taken
all the same drugs that I went on to take,
until one day I found that I had stopped
and didn’t want any more. But I would have
scratched my leg again, this time to bleed,
whether from thorn or barb I’d never know.

Andrew Shields lives in Basel, Switzerland. His collection of poems “Thomas Hardy Listens to Louis Armstrong” was published by Eyewear in 2015. His band Human Shields released the album “Somebody’s Hometown” in 2015 and the EP “Défense de jouer” in 2016.