Lobsters, by Richard Spilman


Lobster, she said, Maine lobster,

Just the two of you, your parents busy

In New Hampshire making a sister

To keep you from being lonely.

You were small, wanted hot dogs,

Hamburger, meat soft and fat,

Meat that didn’t show its origins,

Meat that didn’t fight back.

She brought you to a hangar

Of bare beams and drooping lights.

The stench stifled breath and men

With bloody arms threw fish on ice.

There! She lifted you to the bin. 

Not half frozen refugees curled 

In a tank but an alien horde set free, 

Scythes raised and green like the sea.

Surrounded, maddened by fear,

They attacked the air in their fury,

Climbing each other to the rim 

Desperate, doomed but fighting on.

Pick one, she said, and you tried

A tail. It was feathery, wet, hard.

She laughed and so did the man

With the paintbrush mustaches.

So you snatched it in a swift arc

And dropped it rattling on the floor.

Going home, the two in their boxes

Tapped in code to each other.

There, when the water in the tall

Pot boiled, she lifted you onto

The counter and opened your box.

Rather small, she said, like you.

Antennae probed the saltless air

And once again the great claws

Brandished, but the telescope eyes

Swiveled with reflective calm

As if at this moment he sensed

Might be his last it were vital

To see everything: the kitchen

In white with its hanging pans

And ranked knives, the tiled

Walls, the wheezing old woman

With her red face swallowed

In grey-blue hair like a vase

Packed in excelsior, and you

In your striped shirt, your face

Just out of range, as a finger

Caressed the amazing armor.

Laughing you lifted him high, 

Like a toy soldier meant

To threaten your enemies.

Tail arched, scythes swept

The space between you as

A dying soldier waves away

The coup de grace, silly legs

Kneading insubstantial space.

But when you dropped him

Into the steaming vat, he clung

To the edge, he beat the sides.

What a terrible clanging!

You pried him off with a spoon 

And both of them reached up

Like beggars. You the child who

Would not kill an ant knew

What you’d done was irrevocable.

You watched them settle

Into a dreamy roll, and wept

Until the dark shells bloomed

From rose to red. You gasped

And clapped your hands for joy.

Mine! you cried, as if you owned

That glory, you the great boy

Magician. But then from the pot

Tiny shrieks like the keen

Of women at wakes. Just steam,

She said, steam from the juices

Inside, fluting out the carapace.

But you recognized that cry

And the bodies’ slow turn. It was

The fear that woke you at dawn

To a cold, wet and stinking bed;

That curled you into a ball so tight

They had to stretch you piece by piece

Onto the rack of the waking world.

And later, when the Devil visited

Your dreams, he came red-eyed

With pincers in place of hands 

To lift you into a boiling cauldron.

She could not persuade you to eat,

Even when the meat lay harmless

On your plate, the cracked shell

Discarded, you heard that song.

You hear it now, through a pall

Of grief and loss. It is the cry of all

Things dragged from their element:

The fallen, fearful, suffering host. 

reprinted with permission from the author

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