littleneck clams

She is all there.
She was melted carefully down for you
and cast up from your childhood,
cast up from your one hundred favorite aggies.
She has always been there, my darling.
She is, in fact, exquisite.
Fireworks in the dull middle of February
and as real as a cast-iron pot.
Let’s face it, I have been momentary.
A luxury. A bright red sloop in the harbor.
My hair rising like smoke from the car window.
Littleneck clams out of season.
She is more than that. She is your have to have,
has grown you your practical your tropical growth.
This is not an experiment. She is all harmony.
She sees to oars and oarlocks for the dinghy,
has placed wild flowers at the window at breakfast,
sat by the potter’s wheel at midday,
set forth three children under the moon,
three cherubs drawn by Michelangelo,
done this with her legs spread out
in the terrible months in the chapel.
If you glance up, the children are there
like delicate balloons resting on the ceiling.
She has also carried each one down the hall
after supper, their heads privately bent,
two legs protesting, person to person,
her face flushed with a song and their little sleep.
I give you back your heart.
I give you permission -
for the fuse inside her, throbbing
angrily in the dirt, for the bitch in her
and the burying of her wound -
for the burying of her small red wound alive -
for the pale flickering flare under her ribs,
for the drunken sailor who waits in her left pulse,
for the mother’s knee, for the stocking,
for the garter belt, for the call -
the curious call
when you will burrow in arms and breasts
and tug at the orange ribbon in her hair
and answer the call, the curious call.
She is so naked and singular
She is the sum of yourself and your dream.
Climb her like a monument, step after step.
She is solid.
As for me, I am a watercolor.
I wash off.
—  “For My Lover, Returning to his Wife,” Anne Sexton

Littleneck Clams

I love these little guys as a starter to a weekend meal. Meaty, delicious little creatures.

I take about a cup of dry white wine, a ¼ cup of water, one garlic clove and shallot (minced), and bring to a boil. You can use a steamer basket, or just throw the clams in to the hot liquid to cook until they are opened (just a few minutes). Do not overcook! 

I dip them in butter with a lemon wedge squeezed into it, and eat it with a fresh, warmed baguette. 


Hugh Merwin is the senior editor of Grub Street and wrote the article “Shell Station” in The Seashore Issue, in which he surveys eight different types of clams. Here, he shares his recipe for clam dip.

Take it away, Hugh:

I grew up working in a sort of broken-down clam bar on Long Island’s Great South Bay. One summer we took over the adjoining fish market—we just knocked a big hole in the wall with sledgehammers to connect the two spaces—and in the rubble I found a stack of old promotional recipe cards with instructions for the original Kraft Music Hall Clam Dip, which reportedly caused a shortage of canned clams in Manhattan the moment it was published in the 1950s. I replaced canned clams with fresh steamers, Worcestershire with some funky Roman-style garum. It was actually amazing, especially after letting the chilled and mixed ingredients mingle for a while. —Hugh Merwin

Clam Dip

Makes around 1 ¾ cups

18 littleneck or topneck clams, steamed in ¼ cup of water, cooled, and shucked
6 tablespoons clam cooking liquid
Juice of one lemon 
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon garum or Thai fish sauce
4 dashes Angostura bitters
8 ounces good-quality cream cheese
White pepper to taste

1. Combine clams, cooking liquid, lemon juice, salt, garum or fish sauce, and bitters in a food processor. Pulse until clams are rough-chopped and ingredients are blended. Add cream cheese and pulse, occasionally scraping down sides of food processor with spatula, until everything is smooth. Add white pepper to taste. Clam dip is best after it sits, refrigerated, for a few hours. Serve with sturdy potato chips.