Chong poem
Type
Poetry

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 is a Sydney poet. Her books are Burning Rice, Peony, Painting Red Orchids (all from Pitt Street Poetry, Sydney) and Another Language (George Braziller, New York). Rainforest is forthcoming in 2018. eileenchong.com.au

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