“Crabby” by Charles Harper Webb

Charles Harper Webb


“They’re so cute,” 9-year-old Kara tells the Petco
boy as—antennae waving, black stalk-eyes
straight out of a cartoon—the hermit crabs

drag their moon shells, conch shells, top, tun,
cone, and cowrie shells across the pilfered sand.
Past-owner of rats, hamsters, parakeets,

ferrets, sea monkeys, goldfish, pink chicks,
and a plecostomus, as well as dogs, cats,
and turtles (to which the hermits seem related,

yanking in, then boiling out of their shells),
Kara aches to expand the circle of her love.
“That one!” she cries, and the boy plucks up

the biggest, in its shimmering mother-
of-pearl spiral. For just $4.49 (plus $50
for food, sand, extra shells), Crabby is hers!

But does he frolic in the terrarium
that once housed two dwarf hamsters
that became eight, then twenty-four, then none

when I laid down the law? Does he eat
the food (steak, lettuce, special pellets)
she drops into his scallop-dish? Does he

revel in the mist she sprays three times a day,
or clamber to the top of his crow’s-nest
to mime “Land ho,” or perch on her shoulders

and whisper sea-secrets into her shell-
like ear, the two of them forging a link
across time and speciation? He does not.

Stone-still, he sits in the same spot
so long (three days) she thinks he’s dead.
Lifting him sadly, she turns him upside-

down, sees the orange legs and one big
purple claw blocking the entrance to his shell,
then plops him into her open palm, risking

the spill of fluids and the stench of sea-death
as she begs, “Come out, Crabby Crab,”
until at last that purple claw grabs

onto the soft flesh of her hand, and won’t let go
even when, with outraged cries, she flings Crabby
out the sliding door onto our lawn

where, frying in the August sun, he can only
cling to a scrap of Kara’s skin, and hope
the polar ice melts soon, and the seas rise.

from Rattle #67, Spring 2020


Charles Harper Webb: “My childhood, like my wife’s and son’s, was marked by periodic, usually unsuccessful efforts to make wild creatures (frogs, bugs, lizards, baby birds, etc.) part of my family. This poem commemorates such an effort, and remembers the victim.”

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