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We skimmed the bottom of Duck Creek for crawdads,
sifted through the silt with our fingers,
felt the cool rush of fright as the tiny claws curled around us.

We held them up to the low light,
saw the glinting points of reflection,
shell the color of Georgia mud.

My brother grasped the heads between his fingers,
pinched them off with a wet pop, strung them as bait on his line.
We carried the bodies home with the few small fish we’d caught.

I had never eaten crawdad before.
Our neighbor fished them from a boiling pot with tongs,
husked them of their shells, soft as infant fingernails.

The tail meat floated in a pool of butter,
the white muscle curling in on itself.

I ran from the house into the pine thicket,
kicked pine needles into muddy heaps.

I leaned hard on a tree as thin as a cowtail,
stepped on the trunk, waited for the damp snap,
the acid gasp of its breaking.
Posted 01/08/10
"Initiation" was first published in Poet Lore (vol. 104).
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