“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.”