Discourse on Crabs

José Emilio Pacheco

Along the shore it is said that crabs

are animal bewitched,

creatures incapable of looking back

to see where they have been.


From obstinate tides they learned

the virtue of retreat,

of lying hidden

amid rocks and mud.


Skittering obliquely,

they grip in two tenacious

pincers the void they penetrate

with eyes as sharp as horns.


Nomads of the mud, they occupy

two exiles,


to both denizens of the seas

and beast that walk the earth.


Nocturnal creepers,

itinerant armor,

unsociable and always on the run,

persistent, they flee immortality

in circles impossibly squared.


They fragile carapace

clamors to be ground

beneath our foot.


(Thus did Hercules avenge their bite,

but Juno, who sent the crab against that

obscene carnival clown,

against that charlatan of heroic age,

as reward placed Cancer

among the Zodiac’s twelve signs,

so that its feet and claws

might climb in summer toward the sun

—the season when seeds germinate.)


I don’t know when its name was given

to that tumor that invades tissues

and still in the last years

of the twentieth century

remains invisible

—merely the mention of its name casts

fear across the face of all those present.




Pacheco, José Emilio. "Discourse on Crabs." An Ark for the Next Millennium: Poems. Trans. Margaret Sayers Peden. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993. p. 5.

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