How does the crab define himself? Where does he feel most alive? For a critter that lives in all of the waters, and sometimes the land, and occasionally the sky – what is the defining trait for high-tempered nippers?
From 100 to 700 AD, the Moche civilization admired the crab and depicted the sidestepping crustacean in their pottery, later russet-colored shards of clay in the hands of land dwelling archeologists. The ancient Andeans probably saw the shuffle of a wandering ghost crab in the sands of their part of Peru, sacred in its locomotion as it made its way back to the sea.
Crabs live in between life and death, and like the waning cycles of the moon the crab casts off his shell and exists between the balance of the living and dead. Rock pets with personality.
In Moche ceramics, over 500 pieces are sexual in nature – along with the crab art. A number of the pieces depict skeletons being masturbated by living women, cages of bones contorted with the agony of carnality. Some scholars believe that the Moche art served as a teaching model to show the relationship between the now and the hereafter. What kind of sex do the crabs have in Moche ceramics, do their exoskeleton prisons shake with voluptuous gratification, too? What did the crustaceans teach civilization of life and the afterlife?
Russell is from Maryland, so he knows a lot about crabs and he likes to talk about the
Chesapeake and all that lived there. He said that in the Chesapeake Bay there is so much fishing line that it’s unsafe for deep water divers because they can’t see more than a couple inches in front of their faces. The Bay’s basement is a murderous quilt of nylon thread.
Russell told me that at one point, before the fishing line, there were so many crabs in the Chesapeake that they would crawl into woven baskets dropped into the water of their own volition. This image makes me think of bare legs in flowing water with crabs slowly climbing those bodies until the crustacean arrives willingly to the person’s lips.
Where did the crabs go when their homes became wire?
According to Russell, the best part of the crab is called “crab fat” and I like the idea of the stone bodies having an internal fattiness that’s a secret until you crack open the orange body. But when I research crab fat, I find that it’s just the guts of the crab and not fatty parts. There is no porterhouse part of a crustacean.
As it turns out “crab fat” is the same thing as “crab butter” and “crab mustard.” I would have never thought that the viscera and roe of the piercers could be so versatile. The actual word is tomalley and it should only be consumed in small quantities because it contains so many toxins and PCBs. Just like with real dairy: butter in small yet meaningful quantities only.
PCB is a pollutant that moves up the food chain, and in some instances it’s known to cause cancer. So the constellation while it’s on earth is potentially a carrier for its namesake.
The mustard of a Maryland blue crab is less the color of yellow mustard at baseball games and more like spicy brown mustard on expensive deli sandwiches. When I tell Russell about the PCBs he is immediately concerned that he’s dying of cancer.
I really want his astrological sign to be cancer – a human crab that talks about crabs that are afflicted with a disease that shares the name of the crab’s constellation. If Russell was one of the admired crustaceans of the Moche people, his main concerns would be combat or copulation,
which isn’t too unlike his personality.
But he’s not a crab. He’s a goat.
As a little kid, I always wanted a pet, but despite my vocal fussiness my parents never relented. Since breathing pets didn’t present themselves as an option, I decided to collect the bodies of dead crabs from the shoreline of the Long Island Sound. In my red plastic sand bucket, I’d gather the limp figures of crustacea to take home as my in-between- life friends.
I’d confide in their stone forms and named each after favorite cartoon characters (Jem, Scooby, Lion-o). In their death, the beautiful swimmers with the fractures in their shells would make the entire house smell like low tide. Crabs on the shelf, our home lived in the ocean. But while I slept, my parents would throw out my hollow friends.
In the morning I was convinced that they had returned to the ocean.
I assumed that the crabs necromanced themselves back to life, and I’d stand in the shallows with my feet gripping the mossy rocks underneath, looking for my companions. Schools of minnows would tap my stomach while I searched the water. Sometimes a stray thread of fishing line would float by.
I was disappointed that my crab friends never returned. They became pale specters in memories of loneliness: childhood ghost crabs – but not the same as the ghost crabs the Moche once knew.
Only recently did I learn that the crabs I collected and mourned were blue crabs: the Maryland state crustacean. The very type of crab that Russell’s body was raised on. The tides of the Atlantic brought the bodies to both of us, though our intentions toward them were totally different.
Eventually, we would become adults with passionate and compassionate feelings about crabs, and constellations, and constellations of crabs. Sometimes I imagine us as children – him spreading the butter of blue crabs on pieces of bread, me talking to the vacant shells of seagull-consumed buddies.
How does the crab define himself? I think of my phantom former ocean friends – ancient,
revered, tweezing mystics – using their sidling magic to close the distance between the
Chesapeake and the Sound. They are spirits in shells that span time: twisting invisible fishing wire that entangles the two of us together.