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To An Uneaten Shrimp In A Sausalito Cafe

ISSUE:  Autumn 1999
So, little prawn, what about your prana? Where did it go
   in this confection of butter and garlic
you’re half-dressed in, congealing on the Buffalo china?
   Does wine embalm your shock
from the instant the net hauled you clear in a streaming crush
   of squid, ratfish, cowfish,
all in a grip huge as God’s in catastrophe mode, all suffocating
   in a waterlessness the lesser powers
and dominions—like me—can breathe? If death is not just
   a beheader and deveiner
who ices us one way or another, discarding our sensitive apparatus
   and love of dancing around
in whatever medium sustained our respiration and aspirations,
   then I should drop to my knees
in this starched white-napkin temple to one of the three mysteries,
   the middle one, which takes the hand
of life and the hand of death, and marries eater to eaten
   and says, It is well, and says, Amen.
I will not kneel, but I can bow over you and whisper
   what I paid for the frutti di mare,
how I relished each guzzle and bite and scrape of the spoon
   in the last blood-colored sauce

clinging to the bone-china tureen. And I can tell you,
   my boiled insect, how depression
and age insert invisible spoons into my eyes and china skull
   and sup, and make some unholy
dinner-table chat which I hear only as a high whine and rumble
   and which, the ear specialist assures me
(being eaten like me, yes, even while he pontificates,
   in his starched-napkin jacket,
the jargons of symptom and syndrome that prove him
   merely a true believer
in the Physician’s Desk Reference and New England Journal of
   to explain the invisible world),
assures me is simply decibel damage, the after-effect of years
   of trying to be a guitar god.
My altar was a two hundred-watt Marshall stack: I bent my head
   close to those Celestion speakers
to find the sustained wail and explosion that would shred the veil
   between myself and the higher gods,
who did not need us for meat and drink because they understood
   as the prime mover of rocks and trees
and stars and suns. I believed their dwelling was invisible to
   but not to the murdered,
inaccessible to killers and eaters but open to any of us,
   crustacean or biped guitarist,
insofar as we were being devoured, killed off, all at once or breath
  by hour,
   though only the suddenly executed,
like you, would behold it entire, the kingdom to come where life
  and death
   are married in dance and song,
in whatever medium of thought or breath was most like
   the one we had known.
And there, armored in gray, with blue stalk eyes, curved
   in the near-questionmark shape

that makes you jerk and leap through the gray suspiring water,
   you would dance in praise
at no longer needing to find, or to be, a meal. There, the guitar
   would no longer howl
my blind deaf longing to shriek until waters parted to show me
   the temple walls of the oldest paradise,
ocean: where you died and returned a million million times
   before my waterless gods existed,
before garlic and Goethe, before guitars louder than genocide,
   before gillnet and purse-seine.
Deeper than all our religions you moved, with no desire
   or even an eye for the sky,
like one nerve-pulse in a message being assembled across the
   drowned sphere of water,
assembled cell by cell out of plankton and brine shrimp
   and sand-dab and elver into us—
appetite evolved for dominion—, into our ten thousand recipes
   for eating our way out
of death’s regard, in places like this, where windows let in the look
   of water but not its smell or song,
where the crowded, prayerful noises of human hunger sound
   like bottom-rocks grinding
inside a hurried current, where you go uneaten at last,
   but not, like me, unprepared.


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