“How to Peel a Prawn” by Jill Klein

Jill Klein


My cell phone’s dead zones chase me from room to room 
to the front patio, where I finally hear Mom ask 
if I’ve read some article from thirteen years ago 
about how to peel a prawn. I hate prawns, which she knows, frozen 
turds thawing in my colander until they turn translucent— 
apostrophes ready for E-Z Peeling and disguising with spice. 
She’s asking if I’ve heard of Heather McHugh, one of my favorite poets, 
and the interview she did in that article called “How to Peel 
a Poem.” She says she knows I don’t like shrimp, although they are easy 
and they keep in the freezer. My mom, who knows all the dead poets 
I loathed to learn about, who won some prize in eighth grade 
for a poem about her home state, Kansas, who taught literature, who eggs me on, 
who has no-need-to-write-herself, but has a lifetime of story 
leaking out by cell phone. My Nana, too, dying at ninety-four— 
she wouldn’t write her story, either, would not even dictate when I begged her. 
I had college before babies, not babies before finals. I was post Roe v. Wade, 
post-feminist, poster girl for the generation who learned math 
from fathers. Post-everything, so I had to choose. My daughter believes 
what I say. I hope she’ll have kids, a career, great sex 
even after kids, and get over her fear of math. I never tell her 
any of that. Who am I to, who am I? I peel pre-slit shrimp, the easy way.

from Rattle #42, Winter 2013

[download audio]


Jill Klein: “I wrote my first poem five years ago during a mid-life crisis, after finding a packet of college essays. Who was this writer? Corporate work and staying home with kids had somehow silenced me. I heard a podcast of Heather McHugh’s ‘What He Thought’ soon after. A character in the poem offers his definition of poetry, pointing to a statue of a man burned for heresy and muzzled as he died—‘poetry/ is what he thought, but did not say.’ Not all thoughts are poetic, but unspoken poetry seems tragic. I live in Silicon Valley with my engineering husband, and now baby our cats and bougainvillea.” 

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