A weekly poem, read by the author.
Aug. 19 2008 7:52 AM


Listen to Gail Mazur read this poem.

In ancient Greece, a man could withdraw into the desert
to praise his God in solitude—
he'd live out his days by himself in a cave of sand.
Eremos—Greek for desert, you could look it up.


Hermit crabs live mostly alone
in their self-chosen hermitages, they learn young

to muscle their soft asymmetrical bodies
into abandoned mollusk shells.

Without shells, those inadequate bodies
wouldn't have survived the centuries,

so they tuck their abdomens and weak back legs
inside the burden they'll carry on their backs.

It was Aristotle who first observed
they could move from one shell to another.

But sometimes a hermit crab is social—
sometimes a sandworm, a ragworm,

will live with it inside a snail shell.
And sometimes when the crab outgrows its shell

it will remove its odd companion
and bring it along to a new larger shell.

(The Greeks who taught the Western world
what could be achieved by living together

were also the first in that world to work out
a philosophical justification for living alone.)

If the home it chooses isn't vacant
it will use its large pincer claw to extract

the old inhabitant—usually a dead, or dying,
or less aggressive hermit crab.

Then it drags its spiral shell, its adopted history,
sideways, scrabbling across the wet sand.

That's where you see them,
when the tide is out, on the flats.

At high tide, the weight of the shell
is lessened by the upward pressure of water,

so he can forage for plankton, algae,
sea morsels on the ocean floor.

Actually, he neither "chooses," nor "inherits,"
the mollusk's shell, he has no choice

but to live in it, to lug it with him
everywhere until it's his time to move again.

No shell he inhabits will be his home forever.
Restless, driven, Darwinian,

where he lives today might not please
or fit him tomorrow. I could tell you more,

the flats are seething with unlikely creatures
and remnants of life where life's been unfastened.

According to Tarot, the hermit has internalized
life's lesson to the point where he is the lesson.

And you, Gail, though you seem almost frozen,
are you sure you won't abandon

the crowded, calcified armor of your story,
of what was given, what freely chosen—



Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.