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Fiddler Crabs

They look too busy to retire.
Or else some government has cut their pensions
and they have no option but to remain industrious,
whatever it is that they do, exactly,
at certain hours, when the tide has fallen.

They scurry from hole to hole in great droves
of rush hour traffic, each carrying his single claw,
an outsized instrument of self-protection,
though I prefer to think it really is a fiddle,
and they are afraid of being late for rehearsal.

Just to see them makes me feel alienated and idle,
heading for my boat where I sit cleaning, or set sail alone—
guilty, even deprived, pensioned off
by a world that really doesn't need my assistance.

So I tap them with my foot, just to be playful,
but can't really hurt them. They suffer
their brief setback in a stolid, manly way,
always finding a little foxhole for refuge.

They reassure me that way, a population
that lives for work and not for war,
disregarding my mock attacks from the air.
Like the Dutch, a small, industrious nation,
practical and modest, their domestic life
orderly, even sacred—or so I suppose,
though no tiny Vermeers record it.

I love the way they keep their private lives to themselves,
menacing an intruder with their outsized claw,
and accepting grief—their hollow carapaces
on the deck of my boat, all the meat eaten by gulls—
without posting about it, or staging ceremonies.

Though perhaps they are religious, and hurry to worship,
believing the tide won't return to feed them its harvest
unless they're on time for their twice daily services?

"We're beneath your notice," they might say,
"or so we hope. Free to worship as we choose."
And as for me, standing above them, alien,
and bemused by their diligent behavior,
aren't I the lost one? They're rooted securely
in their mud cities and their daily round—
and every one of them can play his part
in the concerts they offer at evening
to the setting sun.

Alan Feldman


Winter 2016-2017

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