"You don't have a back. You only have a gristle."
—Rick and Wanda Ravenell
I have yet to earn
a back, only gifted a gristle.
Only a girl,
I have yet to know the luck kept
snug in the bed of the oyster.
Not the pearl, fool—
but the meat. Once pried
and the reluctant
top shell tossed to the pile with an iridescent
clink, the job is to pass all that remains—
the meat and shell— to an adult, watch an uncle
or dad or mom carve the steamy flesh up,
set down the muddy knife and slurp oyster
into the dream past
of their seen-it-all throats.
What is left for me: the tiny cuts
from the shell grating my skin, a thrum
by it having been braced against my palm seconds before,
a smell of the sea for days.
Oyster grit. Sediment. Algae, green
in the seat of my small pink hands,
I start again. The job is to pick baked oysters
from the oven pan, the sharp shell hot,
so I shift its weight in my palms
from temp relief to relief.
The job is to find the catch
in the oyster's body—
the way that will lead to an opening—
all with the underside of a butter knife
grainy with the oyster's fossilized past.
Loosening meat, I douse it in hot sauce
for my mouth, watering my mouth,
but I pass it over to an adult.
Tastebuds swell in my jaws.
I know this anticipation better than the taste.