By Amanda Williamsen

           Baltimore, Maryland

My uncle calls from the wharf; his freighter is in;
he’s walked to the nearest food and I find him
in a crab shack at a table by the window.
Waitresses carry crabs on trays, whole piles of them—
stiff, blue, dead—and the restaurant patter crackles
with the brittle speech of small mallets on their shells.
Elena, his wife—she’s from Colombia, my age—
wants a divorce. She’s living in Miami
with some Cuban, he says; she’s got his TV and his car.
When his crabs come, I order grilled cheese,
tell him about karma, how I’ve removed myself
from the chain of suffering and he says, shit,
picks up a crab and whacks it squarely on the back.
He tells me about winters on Superior, ice boats
cracking a path through December until the solid freeze
of January, how he shoveled iron ore from the hold
until the red dust rose in clouds from his clothing,
rinsed from his body in the shower like a gallon of blood;
and before that, how he went to Vietnam while my father
went to college, how he bombed the jungle beneath him
without ever looking down while my father dropped
out of college without ever looking ahead;
and before that, before the war, how the two of them
hit a tree one night while driving on River Road.
You’d have thought we wanted to be that tree, he says.
It broke the car, broke seven of his ribs, nearly broke
my father’s heart but in the end it just broke his spleen
and ripped him open from shoulder to hip.
My great aunt—the whole family tells the story now—
came from Kansas and prayed him back from the dead.

It took weeks, my grandmother baking for her while she prayed,
and my uncle lying in his bed, trying not to breathe too much,
but it worked. Not long after the tree, my father met my mother.
And that, he says, is a whole other basket of crabs.
He breaks a claw, sucks the white flesh out,
says, chain of suffering, my ass.

Amanda Williamsen is a native Ohioan who grew up in Grand Rapids and Yellow Springs. She now lives in California with her husband and two children, teaching writing in a variety of settings. Her work has previously appeared in The Baltimore Review and Midwestern Gothic, and she earned her MA from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University.

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