by Elisabeth Bishop
I am too big. Too big by far. Pity me.
My eyes bulge and hurt. They are my one great beauty, even
so. They see too much, above, below. And yet, there is not much
to see. The rain has stopped. The mist is gathering on my skin
in drops. The drops run down my back, run from the corners of
my downturned mouth, run down my sides and drip beneath
my belly. Perhaps the droplets on my mottled hide are pretty,
like dewdrops, silver on a moldering leaf? They chill me
through and through. I feel my colors changing now, my pig-
ments gradually shudder and shift over.
Now I shall get beneath that overhanging ledge. Slowly. Hop.
Two or three times more, silently. That was too far. I’m
standing up. The lichen’s gray, and rough to my front feet. Get
down. Turn facing out, it’s safer. Don’t breathe until the snail
gets by. But we go travelling the same weathers.
Swallow the air and mouthfuls of cold mist. Give voice, just
once. O how it echoed from the rock! What a profound, angelic
bell I rang!
I live, I breathe, by swallowing. Once, some naughty children
picked me up, me and two brothers. They set us down again
somewhere and in our mouths they put lit cigarettes. We could
not help but smoke them, to the end. I thought it was the death
of me, but when I was entirely filled with smoke, when my slack
mouth was burning, and all my tripes were hot and dry, they
let us go. But I was sick for days.
I have big shoulders, like a boxer. They are not muscle,
however, and their color is dark. They are my sacs of poison,
the almost unused poison that I bear, my burden and my great
responsibility. Big wings of poison, folded on my back. Beware,
I am an angel in disguise; my wings are evil, but not deadly. If
I will it, the poison could break through, blue-black, and
dangerous to all. Blue-black fumes would rise upon the air.
Beware, you frivolous crab