“Crabs” by Mary-Lou Brockett-Devine

Mary-Lou Brockett-Devine


The only thing I know
is they can crawl, swim,
and bite like hell.
—“Chas” Howard,
Beautiful Swimmers

And this, then, is the wonder of evolution:
crabs cannot fly. Imagine them
with their five pairs of legs (eight for walking,
two adapted into claws) hovering over
your family picnic, piercing the skin
of your hot dog as you duck their armored
dives or working in flocks to carry off
a roasted chicken or your tabby cat. What kind
of collar would dogs wear to repel these bugs
with shells so thick it takes a hammer

to crack their claws, a hatchet to hack them
in half to bait a blackfish hook? Calico
crabs, kelp crabs, and king crabs with claws
that can reach to pinch flesh no matter where
you hold them. Box crabs, rock crabs, and spider
crabs, so wiry they could land on your head
and wrap their long legs around your chin—
their wild wings keeping tension on your jaw
as the claws try to rip off something soft. What hope
for the songbirds? Crabs in the branches

plucking featherless chicks from the nest
like oysters on the half shell. Crabs lifting lids,
picking scraps from the trash cans, clinging
to power lines, scavenging road kill, clacking up
the sides of brick buildings, the tips
of their sharp toes scraping at your screens
on August nights. Red crabs, green crabs,
blue crabs—so bright, children
will think them beautiful the way
they think flames are flowers until

they reach plump fingers to the stove. Crabs
from every ocean, eyes adapted to bright
light as they learn to live like their cousins
the land crabs—dry with only shallow puddles
to drink from—then migrating inland,
burying themselves in damp ground to rest,
waiting to spring up and grab anything
(bare toes, dog’s paw) that puts pressure
on their underground beds. Baby
crabs hatching from jellied eggs, scuttling

across sidewalks, scurrying through parking lots
into back yards and cellars, where they squeeze out
of that first shed shell, spread their new-found wings,
and fly. So tonight, as you tuck the sheet beneath
your chin, give thanks that the winged things
that draw blood tend to be small enough to crush.
That the winged things with claws tend to eat seed.
And that the crabs still cling to the rocks beneath
the water, as they wave their stiff claws above their heads
drawing slow circles around the dim and distant stars.

from Rattle #32, Winter 2009
2009 Rattle Poetry Prize Honorable Mention


Mary-Lou Brokett-Devine: “I was raised in a fishing family—third generation. ‘Crabs’ came out of a day on the boat as we were casting our lines with whole crabs in an attempt to catch blackfish. As I watched the crabs spinning in the air at the end of our lines, I announced, ‘We’re so lucky crabs never learned how to fly.’ The crew and my family members smiled and nodded, having adjusted over the years to having a poet in their midst. I often use poetry to connect my two worlds, and try, as an English teacher, to help high school students connect their real, physical worlds to their writing.”

Rattle Logo