Karen Holmberg

Soft Shell Crab

An odd infinitive, to crab, intention
wavering like a spirit level’s
bubble between ode
and deed, teaching my nieces
patience, I suppose; how some things must be
taken unawares; that we can draw up
a mystery in fingerbreadths of string, or lure
it toward counterfeit moons. Placing
the mesh between you and the depths
you flee to, we scoop with a nimble wrist turn
as you shoot sidewise powered by delicate
sculling oars, earning the Latin handle
Callinectes sapidus: beautiful swimmer.
But not tonight; tonight you creep
with the rolling motion of blown thistledown
into the net. Pulled into unbuoying air
you’re a sodden giant, seven inches
point to point. You’ve taken
rapid transit to doughy old age, all
minerals of your hardened past
retracted to the gem of calcium
you hold near your heart, if you can be said
to have one. Cautious, we depress
your shell, padded as a damp cigar,
the blackened green of bruised leaves. We squeeze
the flaccid threat of the opening claw, jelly filled
as the seaweed’s float, and lay the throats of our fingers
on the pliant spines of your guillotine-to-be.

Karen Holmberg
“Soft Shell Crab” first appeared in Quarterly West, Issue 60, 2005.