The Company We Keep
Half-floating, half-sinking, the crayfish wobbles in the white
plastic dish I yanked from the cupboard and splashed
full of tap water, wobbles intentionless, lifeless. Mindlessly
I jiggle the dish, pluck a glob of wet dog hair from its little
pointy legs. Nothing helps. For this we waded into the cold
Susquehanna, netted ridiculously tiny minnows—all bugs eyes
and needle tails—and turned over rocks to catch a crayfish,
two, then three, for the new aquarium. Local shale
stacked into little cave hideouts. The minnows, or whatever
they were, darted in unison like some nervous organism.
The crayfish would snatch up their shrimp pellets with tiny
pincered feet. Then the largest went missing. What fools
we are to kidnap such benign and helpless creatures, cage them
in our homes. It died. It flipped out the back of the aquarium,
thumped to the carpeted floor. Its beady pushpin eyes surveyed
the new terrain: hill of crumpled underwear, marooned ship
of an overturned shoe. Ledges of piled books. The crayfish
hauled its armored body like a slowly fizzing spacesuit
through the deep dark beneath our bed, through our secret
dust and dog hair, tapped its primitive warty claw
along the baseboard while we snored above like careless gods,
oblivious, unrepentant. Now I poke its unresponsive shell—
lolling in the shallow water, I almost believe it's coming back
to life—and now, at last, too late, I think of all the trapped,
forgotten fireflies, the starved, neglected toads; now I cringe
for every "rescued" baby bird I gagged on forcefed worms,
for the worms themselves, for the fermenting jars of tadpoles
floating belly-up on sunny windowsills, the ants, the bugs,
the butterflies: countless, the small ones we've extinguished,
as if we could have been companions, as if we were other
than human, could ever set aside our sorry need for dominion.
from Survivable World by Ron Mohring.
THE WORD WORKS, 2004.
Used by permission of the poet and WORD WORKS.