Vince Gotera

Vince Gotera teaches at the University of Northern Iowa, where he served as Editor of the North American Review (2000-2016). He is also former Editor of Star*Line, the print journal of the international Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (2017-2020). His poetry collections include DragonflyGhost WarsFighting KiteThe Coolest Month. and the upcoming Pacific Crossing. Recent poems appeared in Altered Reality MagazineCrab Orchard ReviewDreams & NightmaresThe Ekphrastic ReviewPhilippines Graphic (Philippines), RosebudThe Wild Word (Germany) and the anthologies Multiverse (UK), Dear America, and Hay(na)ku 15. He blogs at The Man with the Blue Guitar. Born and raised in San Francisco, Vince also later lived in Daly City in San Mateo County.

Poem on Belonging

PACIFIC CROSSING

The pier, a great concrete semicircle,
stretched into San Francisco Bay
like a father’s arm around a daughter.
On Sundays, we would venture on that pier,

Mama in her broad straw hat, a country
woman in some rice paddy on Luzon.
In his lucky lime-green short-sleeved shirt, checked
by orange pinstripes, Papa would heft the net.

I would lean over the rail, watch the two
steel hoops—the smaller within the larger,
criss-crossed by heavy twine in diamond shapes—
loft out over the dark water and sink

in a green froth. A small wire cage nestled
in the center of the hoops, containing
chunks of raw meat. Papa would say, “Best bait
is porterhouse. Crabs really go for that.”

Sometimes he would let me pull the net up.
The rope slimy and tight in my small hands
and then the skitter and scuttle of claws
on the wooden deck of the pier. Later

at home, I would play the radio loud, hide
that same skitter on the sides of the large
enamel-white Dutch oven, concentrate
instead on the sweetness I knew would come.

One of those Sunday evenings, I dropped in
at my friend Peter van Rijn’s house. Dinner
had just been served, and the family rule
was: all the neighborhood kids had to leave.

But I didn’t. There was Pete’s father, like some
patriarch from a Norman Rockwell painting,
poising his carving knife above the shell—
huge and bountiful—of a red King crab.

I said, “Wait.” Their heads swiveled toward me
in shock, as if I’d screamed a curse word out.
Old Peter, the daughter Wilhelmina, his sons—
Paul, Bruno, Guido, my friend Pete—

the Mom whose given name I never knew:
a good immigrant family. The heirs
of European culture, I always
thought, these direct descendants of Rembrandt.

I said, “Wait.” And then I shared the secret
passwords to being a Filipino.
Here is where you dig your fingernails in
to pry the top shell off. You suck this green

and orange jelly—the fat of the crab.
This flap on the underside tells if it’s
male or female: pointed and skinny or
round like a teardrop. Here’s how you twist off

legs, pincers. Crack and suck the littlest ones.
Grip it here and here, then break the body
in half. These gray fingers are gills—chew but
don’t swallow. Break the crab into quarters.

Here you find the sweetest, the whitest meat.

Copyright © 1993 by Vince Gotera. This poem originally appeared in Liwanag: A Journal of Pilipino American Literary and Graphic Arts, Volume II, 1993.