By Paisley Rekdal Paisley Rekdal
Shouldn’t it ache, this slit
into the sweet
and salt mix of  waters

comprising the mussel,
its labial meats
winged open: yellow-

fleshed, black and gray
around the tough
adductor? It hurts

to imagine it, regardless
of the harvester’s
denials, swiveling

his knife to make
the incision: one
dull cyst nicked

from the oyster’s
mantle — its thread of red
gland no bigger

than a seed
of  trout roe — pressed
inside the tendered

flesh. Both hosts eased
open with a knife
(as if anything

could be said to be eased
with a knife):
so that one pearl

after another can be
harvested, polished,
added to others

until a single rope is strung
on silk. Linked
by what you think

is pain. Nothing
could be so roughly
handled and yet feel

so little, your pity
turned into part of this
production: you

with your small,
four-chambered heart,
shyness, hungers, envy: what

could be so precious
you’d cleave
another to keep it

close? Imagine
the weeks it takes to wind
nacre over the red

seed placed at the other
heart’s mantle.
The mussel

become what no one
wants to:
vessel, caisson, wounded

into making us
the thing we want
to call beautiful.

Source: Poetry (October 2013).


This poem originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Poetry magazine

October 2013
 Paisley  Rekdal


Rekdal grew up in Seattle, Washington, the daughter of a Chinese American mother and a Norwegian father. She earned a BA from the University of Washington, an MA from the University of Toronto Centre for Medieval Studies, and an MFA from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is the author of the poetry collections A Crash of Rhinos (2000), Six Girls Without Pants (2002), The Invention of the Kaleidoscope (2007), . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Life Choices, The Body

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.