The Task


after Sharon Olds


We fished with lines, not nets.

My father came home once


and put two shells in my hand.

Crabs poked their eyes out, watching


to see what I would do. My mother chose

crabs at the market. Grey-green armour,


impenetrable. The crabs would sit in a basin

on the floor of the laundry while my mother


pounded spices. I once filled the tub

with water. I’d thought they might drown.


In the sink, my mother would push aside

their legs, locate their underside flaps


and stab them with the pointed end

of a chopstick. I’d read that you could kill


by placing crabs in the freezer. A slow,

painless death. It was my task to unwrap


the string from the dead ones. My father would

prise off their top shells, remove the gills,


and rinse out the guts. My mother would quarter

each with a cleaver. When the crabs arrived


at the table, swimming in sauce, my father

would reassemble his. Lift the carapace.


I liked breaking off the legs, snapping the joints

and easing out the flesh in one intact sliver.


Biting the meat off the cartilage in a single

pull. I left the claws to the others,


preferring only what I could mine

through my own precise undoings.





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Eileen Chong

Eileen Chong is an Australian poet. She is the author of eight books. Her next collection of poetry, A Thousand Crimson Blooms is forthcoming from UQP in April 2021. She lives and works on unceded Gadigal land of the Eora Nation.

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