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 Dragonfly, Ghost Wars, Fighting Kite, The Coolest Month. and the upcoming Pacific Crossing. Recent poems appeared in Altered Reality Magazine, Crab Orchard Review, Dreams & Nightmares, The Ekphrastic Review, Philippines Graphic (Philippines), Rosebud, The 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
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.