The Parable of Baby Doc & the Green Crab

The NYT today says Haiti’s Baby Doc
Duvalier is dead. So that’s that—

another brutal dictator escapes without
paying his tab. It’s almost dusk

as a cloud a little darker than the others
leans down to kiss the grey sea.

I’m glad to be reminded of tenderness,
even by a cloud. Though I didn’t say this

out loud, a Zen-master gull
floating nearby gives me the eye,

and, as if delivering a newspaper, a wave
tosses a one-armed green crab at my feet—

upside down on the sand, legs scrabbling.
I flip it right-side up. The crab

is not grateful—menaces me with its only claw,
which is ragged and broken, part

of a pincer snapped off. It won’t let me
nudge it closer to the water,

furiously churns backside down into damp sand,
until only two stalk-eyes

stare at me accusingly—like tiny heads
impaled on buried pikes.

Thirsty Birds

As the dog and I walk up the road,
a yellow-shafted flicker

sips the runoff from a busted sprinkler—
dips in, tips back, dips in, tips back—

its long beak and red-dabbed head
raise and lower like one of those

oil well pumps, also known as thirsty birds,
I last saw years ago, out near LAX.

I tug the dog to a stop
and let the flicker slake its thirst.

I’ve never seen one drink.
Beak pointed skyward, the bird pauses.

It’s early, it’s summer, it’s
going to be another scorcher.

You don’t have to believe,
to think there’s something about

the flicker’s up-stretched profile
that’s like a shaft of sunlight

piercing an old church.
Just this once, I’m glad

for a broken sprinkler head—
for the bird, for the water

spilling down the road.
I could never quite love L.A.,

but those were good years—
when the children were young,

when we could still afford
to be prodigal with our time.


Jennifer Stewart Miller
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