John Shoptaw


Crawfish Castle

Mounding mudball by mudball in a stately totter 
for no reason the likes of us can know now, whether 
the sunbaked tower was mounded for defensive purposes 
(the mounder never having to leave its burrow), 
or elevated to enhance its pouch’s oxygenation, 
the pouch being sunk below the river table, 
or for some esoteric ritual, of appeasement maybe, 
such as was practiced atop Monk’s Mound at Cahokia
and in the 11th chapter of Genesis, the towering fable 
against making a name for oneself erected 
in the midst of the tribal genealogies of Shem,
a name meaning name, the fable become apotropaic, 
despite which crawfish chimneys are as widely scattered 
as bewilderingly singular (from the frankly phallic 
to the alluvially deltic, studded with oddsized pellets 
as a fertility goddess’s statue with breasts, or a crawfish 
“in berry” with crawfish, stroking its raspy belly 
with its swimmerets), as though these towers also 
were mounded in a confusing babble, plagued with mutual 
incomprehension, agressive disregard or distortion, 
each crawfish encoded anyways with the itch for mounding, 
its castle’s mud-clump rings roughened and yellowed 
inversely to the soil’s strata, an upside-down 
and inside-out Tunnel of Babel:  did that crawfish – 
sandy, green, pink, gray, or blackened red, 
digging its way to high heaven (no fish, 
its name an archaic mutation of crevice
more a spidery mudbug, a miniature lobster) – 
having molded another sour clay marble with its pincers 
and its mouthparts, having heaved it with its snout 
and heaved it up its murky and slickened throatway, 
its Sisyphean flaw never to know when or how to 
call it quits, having shoved it into the last hole left 
in its glistening rim; did it look, for a moment, 
like a god, look as a god looks, fashioning its gaze, 
as its eyestalks paced the horizon, in the image of one 
or another of its predators, a racoon or a painted turtle, 
an alligator or a grackle banking overhead or a couple 
of Little River boys, who’d bike out one morning 
to fish a crawdad up out of its hole with a birch twig, 
which would no sooner appear than skedaddle rearwards, 
its fantail uropod scooping; did it lord it over all alike, 
till something in it scurried it backwards, scooting it 
down from on high to kiss awake another globe, 
descending from its tower to mound another everloving globe, 
and not to be digging its own crypt, glob by bloated glob?



John Shoptaw was raised in the Missouri Bootheel.  He teaches English and Creative Writing at the University of California at Berkeley.  He has finished his first book of poems, Times Beach.