Many, many years ago, I was the Editor of the UCLA literary journal, Westwind. One of my delightful “duties” was to invite a poet of my choice to visit the campus for a poetry reading. My favorite poet at that time was W.D. Snodgrass, not a familiar name to those who are not poets, poetry students, or lit mag editors. Snodgrass won the Pulitzer Prize for his book of poems, Heart’s Needle. It was that book that introduced me to his remarkable work. Naturally, I wanted to invite him to read at UCLA. He accepted. I was thrilled.

The Sunset Recreation Center was packed on Wednesday evening. I was nervous because Snodgrass was already fifteen minutes late. Soon he was thirty minutes late, then 45 minutes late and everybody was fidgety. Where was he? What could have happened? This was long before cell phones, email, or texting. We poor humans were all alone in the universe.

What should we do, people asked me. We wait, I said. For how long? A little while longer. We waited. Minutes ticked by. Still no Snodgrass.

And then he arrived. My hero, my poet. Surely, I thought, some profound event has befallen this literary genius. Some catastrophe or some enlightenment has caused his delay.

We shook hands. He said he had an explanation but felt he owed telling it to the whole audience. Fine, I nodded. He strode to the podium. He was a big man, with large forearms like hamhocks. Big hands, too, and a big heart.

“I am sorry to have kept you all waiting,” he began, “and I fear my excuse is mundane at best. You see, I suffer from corns on my feet. Painful and unpredictable.”

The audience giggled lightly, not sure if he were serious.

“I thought it best to visit the Rexall Drugs for corn plasters before my reading tonight, knowing that I would be standing for a long time. And, simply, I got lost. That was foolish and unfortunate. But it was worth it, trust me, because now my feet can stand here all night…and with your permission I will!”

The crowd cheered and then went silent, and W. D. Snodgrass began to read his wonderful, personal, and poignant poetry.  Below is one of my favorites. I hope you enjoy it.

Lobsters in the Window

First, you think they are dead.
Then you are almost sure
One is beginning to stir.
Out of the crushed ice, slow
As the hands of a schoolroom clock,
He lifts his one great claw
And holds it over his head;
Now, he is trying to walk.

But like a run-down toy,
Like the backward crabs we boys
Splashed after in the creek,
Trapped in jars or a net,
And then took home to keep.
Overgrown, retarded, weak,
He is fumbling yet
From the deep chill of his sleep.

As if, in a glacial thaw,
Some ancient thing might wake
Sore and cold and stiff
Struggling to raise one claw
Like a defiant fist;
Yet wavering, as if
Starting to swell and ache
With that thick peg in the wrist.

I should wave back, I guess.
But still in his permanent clench
He’s fallen back with the mass
Heaped in their common trench
Who stir, but do not look out
Through the rainstreaming glass,
Hear what the newsboys shout,
Or see the raincoats pass.

                 — W.D. Snodgrass (1926-2009)


2 Responses to Lobsters In The Window

  1. Frank Z says:

    Thank you, Mrs. Snodgrass, for your comment. I’m delighted you enjoyed it. The evening was certainly a memorable one for me. It’s an anecdote I’ve recounted many times over the years to friends and family. How wonderful that I’ve had the chance to “tell” it to you. Incidentally, how did you come across my post?



  2. kathy snodgrass says:

    Thank you for that sweet, sweet anecdote–one that I never heard from De and will treasure. He was good at getting lost; the only one better at it was me. For almost 28 years we happily stumbled around together.

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