When my lover is hungry,
I put him to work.
Chop the onion, I tell him
while I butterfly the lamb.
Medium chop, I answer
before he can ask.
He does best
under close supervision,
sous chef as high
as he’ll ever rise.
I give him the jobs
he can’t screw up:
scrub vegetables, slice
carrots, to a bush of tarragon--
a rough chiffonade.
Asked to defrost
a bag of shrimp in cold water,
he drops each one
into the half-filled sink
to be discovered later--
Did anyone tell you
to open the bag? I ask,
tossing dinner down the disposal.
He shakes his head,
lowers his delectable gaze
and I want to nibble
his lower lip, lick away
each bead of briny regret.
Let’s make something else
I whisper, taking his hand,
the knife he's got poised
to peel and mince garlic.
we've both learned the difference
between a head and a clove,
cannellini and cannoli,
a fling versus true love.
We lunch the first Tuesday of each month
at the same sushi bar downtown.
When are we meeting?
The famous poet won’t get off the phone.
Give me the address.
I repeat it again. And again. Write it down! I beg.
No, he says. Those days are over.
He confesses he’s not writing anymore.
I’m all tied up with doctors, he says.
They got me off the booze. I mean, why get out of bed?
My 2-pack-a-day habit? Quitting didn’t help.
Listen to me wheeze! He takes a breath.
Exhales. I hear the rattle.
These days all he does is complain.
A far cry from the hot hunk he’d once been.
Last month you looked great, I lie.
But the famous poet doesn’t believe me.
When I walk, he says, my knees are bone on bone.
They’ve got me using a cane!
So not sexy anymore.
It’s payback, he rues. Too much carousing,
all those worshipful women —
A connoisseur of sloe-eyed broads.
That’s me. What did I expect,
fucking everything that walked for 50 years?
Except you, he laughs.
You’re the one that got away!
Even now, he can’t stop flirting.
I almost feel sorry for him.
(Co-written with California poet Dion O’Reilly)
He taught me to eat raw fish, to mix wasabi and soy sauce into a thick green slurry, use ivory chopsticks to dip the sushi without severing it from its rice bed. Clumsy at first, soon we were feeding each other morsels of mackerel, a bite of raw shrimp, salmon sashimi, slippery on the tongue. Easy then to slip into his bed, already besotted with things raw and delicious. Those were the days I was free for the taking, men schooling around, and me, the wide open sea. He began at my feet, told me not to look at him; I stared at the mirror on his closet door, watched his reflection devour me like bait. You have a beautiful cliTORis, he marveled. It’s pronounced CLItoris, I said. There was a wetsuit in the closet. A surfboard rested next to the bed. On the wall, pages torn from Surfer Magazine — mammoth, lapis lazuli waves dwarfed lone surfers as they shot the curl. A metaphor. We drank a bottle of saki, and then another. He showed me the St. Christopher medal around his neck. He was named for that patron saint of wanderers, but he stayed put until Novem-ber, when the surf turned cold and the money ran out. Christopher sold off his stuff for traveling cash; dishes, linens, the radio. I like to travel light, he said. A few nights before Chris left for Maui’s Banzai pipeline, we spent my last fifty on tequila and limes, invited a few of his surfer buds for a final aloha. Before the night ended I went down on one of them while Chris watched. All of us, bombed out of our minds. That guy kept calling, telling me how hot I was and how he wanted to “return the favor.” Just drop me off here, Chris said when I pulled up at the Hawaiian Airlines terminal at LAX. He removed the long, silver chain with the St. Christopher medal from his neck, placed it over my head. Hey, he said, his lips brushing mine. It’s been real.
Jean Harlow used her breasts the way men would use a gun.
— Graham Greene
I’m thumbing through that book again. The naughty one about Old Hollywood, pre-Hays code. I’m lusting over photos of half-clothed vixens of the silver screen, smeared lipstick, bedroom eyes. Crawford, Lombard, Stanwyck. My favorite? Harlow sultry and half-naked in a white satin slip, strap falling over one shoulder. Men like me because I don’t wear a brassiere, she deadpanned. Women like me because I don’t look like a girl who would steal a husband. At least not for long. I like that, the take. And give back. I read she’d ice her nipples before a scene, for just the right effect. Whatever that was. I was twelve when the torrid tell-all, Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon, fell into my eager lap. That’s me, in the full-length, practicing my best Harlow pout, left leg jutting out from under my mother’s best negligee, prepubescent breasts poking through the silk. I’d spend my weekends watching old B & W movies on TV, mimicking Harlow’s strut and sass. That’s me, icing my tiny titties like I knew what I was doing, channeling my inner siren, cracking wise in Harlow’s brassy, New Yorkese in Baby Face, perfecting my left hook, in Bomb Shell. I wanted to emerge from my skinny, tomboy purgatory, peroxide my hair, blossom into a bosomy blonde temptress, a goddess who held the key to every man’s fantasies; a woman who knew the ropes.
Dion O’Reilly’s debut book, Ghost Dogs, was published in February 2020 by Terrapin Books.
Her poems appear in Cincinnati Review, Poetry Daily, Narrative, The New Ohio Review, The
Massachusetts Review, New Letters, Journal of American Poetry, Rattle, The Sun, and other
literary journals and anthologies. She is a member of The Hive Poetry Collective, which
produces podcasts and radio shows, and she leads online workshops with poets from all over the
United States and Canada.