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"Pickle Tub", "Moussaka" & "Sea-Witch: Coney Island" by Chiara Di Lello

Pickle Tub

I’ve got a heart like a pickle tub

you can turn it over and drum on it for change

it’s full of living things, it’s good for you

even if the smell isn’t for everyone

buckets, I say, for the big ideas

for my fears like they’re

koi for sale on the sidewalk

curving against white plastic or blue

ten whole gallons for your large scale projects

it means business, and it sloshes

if you try to carry it too far too fast

road salt and ice water will

burn your hands with cold

but zipped into plastic pouches

chambers like a fist-sized organ

they’ll make ice cream

just shake ‘em up

what I mean is I can make sweetness

from contract-grade materials

I’ve got a heart like a pickle tub

widely available, sure, but industrial strength

it won’t cost you much to take it home

but it matters what you can do with it


I’ve started to suspect that I speak in fish and you speak in nets

that we’re hydroelectric, only generating drone

that you are cynical like a Warhol Brillo box and like the West Village

you’ve made your own dark and intelligent past irrelevant

Your tongue for all I know tastes like Staten Island

maybe I should bag the entire enterprise

You are slippery as the class bully, self-inflated like the prices

of after school snacks. I speak in sugar, you sawdust a reply

When you agree to meet you show up like a bucket of used antifreeze

and later your caress is a cold floor

You made me think my touch turned you to stone

that kiss on the bridge my interborough crime

I want to pull your hair, find out if my nails

down your back make you hard

I want the thing itself and not the commentary

I secretly hope I hate the book you asked me to read

and I dream of taking you baffled to a poetry reading

and being brave enough to know your confusion is your fault and not mine

but it’s a mistake to bring you to my havens

where you toss down your scorn like a hat and pick it up only when you leave

To make you wince, show me throat and shy belly

and knock-knees – this, I suspect, is what I want from you

not your castor oil consciousness and not your nets

I want your tallow soap, the parts of you that smear

I want your unpatchable shirt

your defensiveness like soured tea

I want your six year-old self to comfort

because I refuse to give your current one the same

O angel, o boy philosopher. I understand so little

of what I am trying to be, and you do not help

You don’t identify with the animals I associate you with

you are as borderline beautiful as the Gowanus Canal

You take me to the certified best diner in Queens and this

is what wins my heart, hands it to you baked into the moussaka

while you sink into your self-loathing like it’s a high buttoned collar

holding close your razor-bumped neck

I’ll call you back, but only the version of you

sneaking out of the office late morning to take a train with me to Brooklyn

when I kiss you for half a second you are as peaceful

as an alley cat even though you tremble the whole way through

If I could get you out of city limits, I swear

you’d be that much nicer or you’d fall to pieces

but your hand is the live wire of Times Square, I wouldn’t grab it

for love nor money nor your adored Kurt Cobain

Sea-Witch: Coney Island

She could have said no—not coy, I know

what I’m about, she could have thrown

the nib of fishbone back to stick in my craw

It's all revocable while in negotiation, can't help it

if the limpet took my terms, speak up, girl, be vocal

knocking down my carnival door to get her carnal delights

Stunned by the lights, the clangor and above us

the dock strewn with cracked clams, Brighton bait

and purple-brown guts, delicious, but it unnerves

I'm sure, when you’re daddy's precious spawn

After the split, her fresh-hewn stilts will pick their way

down that slimy length to boardwalk slats

beer-blessed sand and a maelstrom of smells

One street down, shuffling wide-eyed

she’ll leave a salty trail past my painted sign:



until it’s MTA brights not freakshow flash

dripping cold through her hair to goosefleshed skin

Her three days begin at the end of the line

take any train, I told her

he’ll find you wherever you wash up

in midtown's foaming shoals

She could have refused—wisps like her have left

with something different than they bargained for

altogether wetter, better. There’s more than one way

to get them in my tentacles, to tempt

a one-tail off the brighter path and into my trenches

She will have what she's after

sure as ink and bone, but she is not alone in that:

there’s plenty left for me and mine.

Chiara Di Lello is a writer and educator. She delights in public art, public libraries, and getting improbable places by bicycle. For a city kid, she has a surprisingly strong interest in beekeeping. Find her poems in Rust + Moth, Parentheses Journal, Whale Road Review, and Best New Poets, among others.

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