I wanted to write you a poem about horseshoe crabs,
how they are born on beaches, how they spend their lives
sheltered, underwater, and only reemerge when they’re old.
They trudge across their grave, their chestnut lives etching
wales into every grain of sand. Every beach is their archive,

but I forget about your summer house—in Delaware of all places.
You must have stepped over them on your twilight walks. I bet
you think of them as army helmets encapsulating the precious history
of the world’s disappointments. Or maybe you thought of them as pins
pushed in a map, marking the exact moment of abandonment.

If you ask them to, they will arrange themselves quietly,
using their tails as compass needles, to show you the way
to me. They’ll point to a tangle of seaweed, then a perfect
stone for skipping, and finally to a knife laid bare in the sand
at your feet. You will pick it up. You will drag the blade

through the center of a belly. No remorse—just think:
it was finished anyway. Just think: even those most protected
can’t avoid their end. You will tip the shell to your mouth,
you will drink the crab’s blood; and it will search your body,
each magnificent cell, to scour away the etchings I made.

Then you will continue walking without me.

(photo: walknboston on; no changes made)




10 Replies to “Scrimshaw”

  1. This got more heartbreaking with every read, the second stanza in particular with its recognition that this person had clearly been hurting and the narrator could do nothing about it. The repeated imagery of etching, stabbing, poking, etc was especially powerful. Also loved “They trudge across their grave, their chestnut lives etching
    wales into every grain of sand.”

  2. Lines 4 – 7 are my favorite, that first tip of bitterness that draws us on. And that etching image that rides throughout.
    Have you read the story collection THE PAPER MENAGERIE by Ken Liu? “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species.” You’ll see why. 🙂

  3. This undid me. I’ve been uttering those opening words, waiting for a poem to come to me, the one I owe to my friend. Then to read yours, one obviously about loss and separation and how things change, really hit me hard.

  4. This is unbelievable. I love the style you’ve used, a sort of exploratory, conversational monologue poetry. And the way you lead the reader, and the subject, deeper. That final emotion-image is so well-timed and worded!

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