"The stars are threshed, and the souls are threshed from their husks."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Swedes eat them with dill

We arrived in Knight's Landing ravenous. The taco truck parked in empty lot of a defunct auto shop lured us in with a siren scent of carnitas, carne asada, and baracoa tacos and we circled our prey like wolves. A couple plates of cornmeal, beef, pork, salsa, and some lime soda later, we looked around with human intelligence once more. Across the bending highway stood a dilapidated building that resembled an enormous shed. We could see a sign for live crayfish on one door. The gate to the high fence that surrounded that section of the building was padlocked, but a few windows were exposed along other walls. Through the dark, warped grime of ancient glass we could detect a pool table, a room with tables bristling with the legs of overturned chairs, and a long bar. A fallen sign read: BIKERS WELCOME. This bait shop turned highway and river bar had obviously been closed for some time, and I wondered what this modest crypt of good times meant to its merchandise. The crawfish. The crawdad. The crayfish. I wrote:

The crayfish rejoice. The gaoler, the wolf of the rivers, the tyrant has fallen! They raise their claws above the water and clap them together—commemorating each anniversary of the bankruptcy, death, or act of crayfish god that padlocked the doors of this fisherman’s hole. But not all. Members of a small society of crayfish paint themselves darker with the river mud, believing that if the ogre has no use for them, he is likely to—unthinkingly, clumsily, with poison—annihilate them in passing. They are organized. They have a newsletter and hold fund-raisers. Meanwhile, the building contemplates theology. Cremation, burial, annihilation, reincarnation? Spiders lawyer its demise. The windows swell and muddy with age. The bait shop slowly acquiesces to its architecture a mile away from the river that runs through Knight’s Landing, California.

A crawdad is a cipher for human sympathies. The heavy enormity of his claws prefigure the beseeching hands of Rodin's burghers, while he himself is as small as a doll. Crawdads are the peasantry of river, creek, and delta, always bowing, permanent supplicants. His eyes are bright with the desperate cunning of the scavenger, cowering furtive in mud or crevice from his scaled predators, but striking with murderous precision from these selfsame alleys when weaker fish idle by. He wallows gluttonously in orange edible beds of salmon roe. Crawdads cram themselves by the hundreds into the fisherman's traps, drawn by individual avarice into collective indenture. Served in a plated heap or steel bucket, how like a red vision of man debased. The instinctive loathing for the humunculous fires the zeal of our semi-cannibalism. We tear the crawdad in half, prize the tender meat from their tails and devour it, then we suck out the guts and shatter the claws. The melted butter speaks of luxury, of pillows and silk, the hot sauce to the fires of lust pain and fear that drive us on to the next crawdad, and the next, until finally there is naught but shards of exoskeleton--the masks of comedy and tragedy mingled now inexorably, the mirror broken.



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