karen wiles
by Emily Hockaday

I lost the first few
pulling too quickly
or not quick
enough. You reached

for the string
over my shoulder
trying to man both
string and net

at once. We were left
with empty lines—the rags
of flesh less and less
attached to the bone.

I had helped
you secure that string
around the raw chicken,
fat puckering up

over the knots before
dropping it down
into the dark water.
When I first asked you

to take me crabbing,
you took it as
a joke, maybe, said
the season starts

in August, at dark,
so day-lit May
was improper.
I took your information

rolled it between my
fingers to feel around for pieces
of your childhood
amongst the knowledge

you’d gained living on the shore
of an island.
You were right.
To go crabbing

when there aren’t any crabs,
it doesn’t make sense.
I wanted to see
one crab. It’s what I said

at dinner that night—
chicken legs—over the stiff
plastic tablecloth
saturated in ugly floral

print, Alzheimer’s, your
familial ghosts. I promised
your mother a poem
so here it is:

the dock jutted out
into a bay
which I called the ocean
because really

if A touches B touches
C—it smelled
like the ocean. The salt stuck
to my lips and pores,

the spray misleadingly gentle,
and I crossed the dock
in the deliberate and
exploratory way

a child picks apart
veins in an oak leaf
by ripping out
the papery and meaty insides.

The slats of wood, crusted
with salt, speckled and stained
with worm carcasses, bird excrement
and burns

led out into the water
like a long tongue.
Posts and hooks
with grimy bits of string

sticking up. The equipment
made it an expedition. You,
shaking the spiders
off the plastic bucket, net

held like a lacrosse
stick, were in
command. The crabs came
early that year,

would probably come again,
too, a second wave. It was
abnormal (though to be
expected). You and I

have precarious timing.
We threw each
crab back; all
runts but the same

pregnant female,
so hungry, again and

SOURCE: Previously published in Go Places (2012).

PHOTO: “Why Men Fish” by Karen Wiles. Prints available at fineartamerica.com.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem is about a crabbing excursion I took with my now-husband (then-friend) and other friends out in Patchogue, Long Island. The trip came after a lot of begging and nagging on my part (because this was off-season). We started too early (dusk) and apparently had missed a wave of crab and were destined to miss the next as well. We’ve since had more luck, but even though we left empty-handed I remember the trip fondly.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Emily Hockaday is author of three chapbooks: Ophelia: A Botanist’s Guide (Zoo Cake Press 2015), What We Love & Will Not Give Up (Dancing Girl Press 2014), and Starting a Life (Finishing Line Press 2012). Her work has appeared in a number of journals including the North American Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Newtown Literary, Amazon’s Day One, and, most recently, Qu. She can be found on the web at emilyhockaday.com and on Twitter @E_Hockaday.