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Mud Crabs, Low Tide
(1956 - / United Kingdom)

Mud Crabs, Low Tide

I feel a sharpness under the surface like tin-tacks,
having come down to their soft mud among smells
where most would retch. They sift broken bits,
tuck into their mud; the bay has the sound

that could suck a crab-claw clean: a low-tide restaurant.
Like the guileless yachts, or tunes
of light sociable chopsticks: their lilting suck and clink—
but it stops when you move, when the wind changes,

or when you ask what is their beginning or end?
Millenia ago there may have been a life for them
separate from the shore. Now they mechanically mudwallow—
half pig, half earth-moving equipment,

before they’re dragged up on lines, harnessed and killed.
Clamped together they will clang into a bucket.
They’ll try to scuttle away on claws like tin-openers.
But a time waits in the mangroves

when branches will basket leaves to the tide.
They accept the sun drenches them,
the mud and its fetor, the shore and its equivocal messages,
the moon shining in the ranks of their claws.

Yachts pick (cutlery tinkering an appetite)
and they thimble quickly back, their eyes needling
like blindmen’s cues feeling holes.
The tide comes and the river pours. By morning,

they will have pulled themselves
through the same acres. I think of the
tinkling, the rattling in the enormous troughs
they’re thrown into by the bucketful in kitchens,

steam kettling their flesh. The sun walks high
over dark mud and the made beach of their generations.
How long must they pace the brown field,
how long to endlessly dredge the sweet, the sour earth?

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