The Solitude of Work

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Unscrew the hatch and look down in the hold:
ten thousand purple crab in a living cast,
clicking the air with slow claws or clinging
to each other’s horny shells. In boots and gloves
I’d stand on their backs, bend down and throw them
two at a time into the lowered mesh,
two hundred to a bag to be hoisted away
and kept alive in the sharp brine of the bay
till it was time to butcher them . That job
was harder, breaking a ten-pound crab apart
on a chest-high blade. They sensed death coming
and slowly fought the blade with claws like fists,
and when their shells were gutted empty things
thrown in a grinder, there was still a smell,
my own grim smell from a day of taking lives—
never a very happy enterprise.

So much happier was the hold cleared out
and hosed, where I sat in my own sweat and gear
feeling the sky rain softly through the hatch,
and work was done. My body reeked and ached.
The crew came down, bringing along their talk
and strutting lies. Somehow the solitude
of work stayed with me through the many years,
the many tasks left incomplete, the days
lightened in the forgetfulness of doing.
The way I screwed the hatch back on the hold
and looked out from the deck on the dark bay.
One boat moved on, and another came to moor.