By Richard Howard
“Messieurs, l’huitre étoit bonne. Adieu. Vivez en paix.”
Secret they are, sealed, annealed, and brainless
And solitary as Dickens said, but
They have something to say: that there is more
Than one way to yield. The first—and the hardest.
The most nearly hindered—is when you pull
Them off the rocks, a stinking, sawing sedge
Sucking them back under the black mud, full
Of hermit crabs and their borrowed snailshells,
Minnows scattering like superstitions,
The surf dragging, and every power
Life permits them holding out, holding on
For dear life. Sometimes the stones give way first.
Before they will, but still we gather them,
Even if our hands are bloody as meat,
For a lunch Queen Victoria preferred:
“A barrel of Wellfleet oysters, points down”
Could last across the ocean, all the way
To Windsor, wakening a widow’s taste.
We ate them this afternoon, out of their
Armor that was formidably grooved, though
It proved our own reversal wiser still:
Keep the bones and stones inside, or never
Leave the sea. “He was a brave man,” Swift said,
“Who first eat one.” Even now, precedent
Of centuries is not always enough.
Driving the knife into muscles that mould
The valves so close to being impartial.
Surrender, when it comes—and it must come:
Lavish after that first grudging release
Back there in the sea, the giving over
Of despair, this time—makes me speculate.
Like Oscar and oysters, I feel “always
Slightly immortal when in the sea”: what
Happens now we are out? Is the risk worth
While for a potential pearl? No, what we’re
Really after is the moment of release,
The turn and tear of the blade that tightens,
Tortures, ultimately tells. When you spread
The shells, something always sticks to the wrong
One, and a few drops of liquor dribble
Into the sand. Scrape it off: in the full
Half, as well as a Fautrier, a Zen
Garden, and the smell of herring brine that
Ferenczi said we remember from the womb,
Lunch is served, in shiny stoneware sockets,
Blue milk in the sea’s filthiest cup. More
Easily an emblem for the inner man
Than dinner, sundered, for the stomach. We
Take them queasily, wonder as we gulp
When it is—then, now, tomorrow—they’re dead.