by ELIZABETH BISHOP (1911-1979)
I am too big. Too big by far. Pity me.
My eyes bulge and hurt. They are my one great beauty, even so. They see too much, above, below. And yet, there is not much to see. The rain has stopped. The mist is gathering on my skin in drops. The drops run down my back, run from the corners of my downturned mouth, run down my sides and drip beneath my belly. Perhaps the droplets on my mottled hide are pretty, like dewdrops, silver on a moldering leaf? They chill me through and through. I feel my colors changing now, my pigments gradually shudder and shift over.
Now I shall get beneath that overhanging ledge. Slowly. Hop. Two or three times more, silently. That was too far. I’m standing up. The lichen’s gray, and rough to my front feet. Get down. Turn facing out, it’s safer. Don’t breathe until the snail gets by. But we go travelling the same weathers.
Swallow the air and mouthfuls of cold mist. Give voice, just once. O how it echoed from the rock! What a profound, angelic bell I rang!
I live, I breathe, by swallowing. Once, some naughty children picked me up, me and two brothers. They set us down again somewhere and in our mouths they put lit cigarettes. We could not help but smoke them, to the end. I thought it was the death of me, but when I was entirely filled with smoke, when my slack mouth was burning, and all my tripes were hot and dry, they let us go. But I was sick for days.
I have big shoulders, like a boxer. They are not muscle, however, and their color is dark. They are my sacs of poison, the almost unused poison that I bear, my burden and my great responsibility. Big wings of poison, folded on my back. Beware, I am an angel in disguise; my wings are evil, but not deadly. If I will it, the poison could break through, blue-black, and dangerous to all. Blue-black fumes would rise upon the air.
Beware, you frivolous crab.