Still-Life

Poem by David Masello

A scene I would paint, if I could: 

the young Dutchman at the party, 

offering North Sea oysters, shucking  

them for guests who say “Yes” to the offer. 

He slices into the seam of the shell, 

mottled, amorphous as a rock— 

expert camouflage in an outcropping,  

a creature, said to be insentient,  

fashioning something this ingenious.    

The blade teases his metal-mesh glove. 

A scrape of residual sand and, then, 

upon the unhinging, a release  

of the reek of the sea; a final flourish 

of lemon juice that leaks through his fist. 

  

He awaits as you tip and drink  

the pearlescent brine, dislodge 

and slide the being into your mouth; 

a kind of sorrow for that gray mass,  

its one exposure to the air we breathe. 

  

He then positions the hip that carries  

the bucket for you to deposit the shell. 

Golden Age still-lifes include the oyster 

on their tabletops, a symbol of longing, 

an aphrodisiac, among the other goods 

of bread, wheels of gouda, pomegranates,  

unfurling peels and scattered femurs, 

assembled to tell us what we have in life,  

for now. Never included in such scenes  

painted by the masters is there a figure  

such as he, though, look closely enough, 

and you might find a face like his reflected  

within the wink emitted from a silver pitcher spout,  

the sheen that wraps the orb of a grape.