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—



The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10


Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

The Ludicrous Claims You’ll Hear at This Company’s “Egg Freezing Parties”

  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM Going Private To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
The Vault
Oct. 1 2014 10:49 AM James Meredith, Determined to Enroll at Ole Miss, Declares His Purpose in a 1961 Letter
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 10:54 AM “I Need a Pair of Pants That Won’t Bore Me to Death” Troy Patterson talks about looking sharp, flat-top fades, and being Slate’s Gentleman Scholar.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 10:44 AM Everyone’s Favorite Bob’s Burgers Character Gets a Remix You Can Dance to
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 10:27 AM 3,000 French Scientists Are Marching to Demand More Research Funding
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 1 2014 7:30 AM Say Hello to Our Quasi-Moon, 2014 OL339
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.