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