“Diet Coke” by Lexi Pelle

Lexi Pelle


All I saw my mother drink 
for years. In the diner, served 
with a striped straw and shredded
paper beanie or sometimes 
at Stop & Shop just before checkout, 
its perfect plastic body pulled from 
the squat fridge that sits underneath 
the conveyor belt—but most often 
sipped from a silver can on the porch. 
She never asked for ice. Never dared 
to dilute the fizzy pollution of artificial 
sweeteners. The first time I tried it 
I thought it tasted like a backhanded 
compliment, surprisingly good, 
the dark dizzying lake like a cactus 
burped Splenda into my mouth. 
The flavor so far from milk or juice, 
like a fresh-squeezed robot, a supermodel’s 
saliva. My sister and I sat around her 
like the students of Socrates and watched her 
succumb to the only sweetness she ever allowed
herself. A true mother, listening 
to the questions it spat into the air,
voice lifted at the end of every swallowed
sentence. Let’s play the quiet game? 
she suggested on long car trips
to Hershey or to one of Kate’s soccer 
tournaments and only then could we all hear it
whisper to her from the cup holder
as a speed bump puddled the lid
and she brought the spill to her lips. 

Prompt: “This poem was written in an Ellen Bass workshop. Bass asked us to write poems with ‘thingitude’ or poems that use and celebrate the observation of the real. We looked at Thomas Lux’s poetry, with a focus on his poem ‘Refrigerator, 1957’. Bass asked us to pay close attention to the sounds, humor, and asides in Lux’s poem and, afterwards, to try to incorporate some of that vibrancy into our own work.”

from Rattle #81, Fall 2023
Tribute to Prompt Poems


Lexi Pelle: “Years ago I read The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. In it she says, ‘Before you can think out of the box, you have to start with a box.’ Prompt poems give me that box. Like poets who use form to aid their ideas, I sometimes need a good prompt to get me writing.” (web)

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