Sylvia Plath

Mussel Hunter At Rock Harbor

I came before the water --- Colorists came to get the Good of the Cape light that scours Sand grit to sided crystal And buffs and sleeks the blunt hulls Of the three fishing smacks beached On the bank of the river's Backtracking tail. I'd come for Free fish-bait: the blue mussels Clumped like bulbs at the grassroot Margin of the tidal pools. Dawn tide stood dead low. I smelt Mud stench, shell guts, gulls' leavings; Heard a queer crusty scrabble Cease, and I neared the silenced Edge of a cratered pool-bed. The mussels hung dull blue and Conspicuous, yet it seemed A sly world's hinges had swung Shut against me. All held still. Though I counted scant seconds, Enough ages lapsed to win Confidence of safe-conduct In the wary other world Eyeing me. Grass put forth claws, Small mud knobs, nudged from under, Displaced their domes as tiny Knights might doff their casques. The crabs Inched from their pygmy burrows And from the trench-dug mud, all Camouflaged in mottled mail Of browns and greens. Each wore one Claw swollen to a shield large As itself--no fiddler's arm Grown Gargantuan by trade, But grown grimly, and grimly Borne, for a use beyond my Guessing of it. Sibilant Mass-motived hordes, they sidled Out in a converging stream Toward the pool-mouth, perhaps to Meet the thin and sluggish thread Of sea retracing its tide- Way up the river-basin. Or to avoid me. They moved Obliquely with a dry-wet Sound, with a glittery wisp And trickle. Could they feel mud Pleasurable under claws As I could between bare toes? That question ended it--I Stood shut out, for once, for all, Puzzling the passage of their Absolutely alien Order as I might puzzle At the clear tail of Halley's Comet coolly giving my Orbit the go-by, made known By a family name it Knew nothing of. So the crabs Went about their business, which Wasn't fiddling, and I filled A big handkerchief with blue Mussels. From what the crabs saw, If they could see, I was one Two-legged mussel-picker. High on the airy thatching Of the dense grasses I found The husk of a fiddler-crab, Intact, strangely strayed above His world of mud--green color And innards bleached out blown off Somewhere by much sun and wind; There was no telling if he'd Died recluse of suicide Or headstrong Columbus crab. The crab-face, etched and set there, Grimaced as skulls grimace: it Had an Oriental look, A samurai death mask done On a tiger tooth, less for Art's sake than God's. Far from sea --- Where red-freckled crab-backs, claws And whole crabs, dead, their soggy Bellies pallid and upturned, Perform their shambling waltzes On the waves' dissolving turn And return, losing themselves Bit by bit to their friendly Element--this relic saved Face, to face the bald-faced sun.

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