John Patrick Starling
Updated: Aug 23, 2020
Sweet local corn
On a hot day, but
"It ain't the heat…"
"It's the humidity"
Sings the nasal chorus
Of friends, and family
And perfect strangers
Up and down the picnic tables
Covered by a patchwork of
Cardboard, garbage bags, and
Rosin paper from somebody's truck bed.
For a long moment
A dim coolness moves
Across the hazy blue sky.
The red brick veneer lounge and hall squats behind us,
As white clouds cover the American Legion's lot.
The only sounds are the breaking of the shells
A thump. Another thump. A clang - and a hoot from
The folks pitching horseshoes by the wood line.
And the desperate clawing noises that
The crabs are making inside the pot.
"I wonder where the Sun went"
One of the old men wonders aloud
To everyone, and nobody in particular…
But still waiting for an answer all the same.
"It's still around" replies the big woman
Whose name I never can remember, but
Knew my grandfather when he was a boy in Pimlico,
Before the war.
"Still around? Ya can't prove it by me" Says Mr. Sal
"It looks like the damn computers have finally replaced it"
He says staring down through the spent shells
And broken legs, and the spilled beer, and the devil…
"I was hoping to read the funnies today" he laughs.
One of my nephews looks at me wondering silently
("What are they talking about?") his eyes say.
My Uncle catches on to his look, and
Clues him into Mr. Sal's joke, that
"The Sun is a newspaper and…"
The boy stares back
Blank as an empty screen.
A little black boy gets his basket ball from the car, and
He and my nephews, and my daughter go play together
Thinking nothing of it.
It's the dead of Summer.
And, it's an election year…
Politics hang thick
In the air around the table.
More crabs are steaming.
The corn is sweating in their husks
The butter melted an hour ago,
And the flies have set upon the carcasses.
My beer is warm and flat, as
I shift from one cheek to the other,
Uncomfortable with my back the way it is, but
Better off than the young fella pouring the brews
Carefully, and seemingly without a care in the world, though
Crippled for life.
Hot and muggy Maryland is
As it always was, and
Always will be…
Betwixt and between.
The bastard son of the South
And the forced adoptee of the North
Home to master and slave, to
Poor white folk, and the landed gentry
Who keep them comfortable enough
Not to fall into cahoots with the "coloreds",
"Or whatever we're supposed to call them now"
I hear half-whispered by an old man the next table over.
"How 'bout them Os?" someone says loudly
"How 'bout them Ravens?" Someone shouts back proudly
"How about some more crabs? I got a sluffer."
"How about another beer?"
For now at least, nobody's talking politics.
Maybe later on tonight when everybody's had a few (more), but
For now, folks seem content just to pick, and eat, and drink.
Keeping it to themselves, whatever they may think, because
Here we're all veterans, or the children, or grand children,
Or great-grand children of The Greatest Generation -
The ancestral keepers of the oath to this great idea called "America"
This fundamentally good, albeit flawed, "exceptional" young nation.
The old black vet, with
The Vietnam hat has a mallet in one hand
And a knife in the other, but
Pretends he didn't hear that not so quiet slight,
And the white folks act like they don't know
Who at these tables is on the left,
Or who's on the right, but
Deep inside, all politics aside…
They know wrong from right.
It seems to me in times like these
That our standard issue politics don't rate.
Reagan was the last Republican
Both Bush's and the Clintons were, in the end
Of the same oligarchy, smugly
Passing our simple lives back and forth between them.
And Obama's greatest sin was being black.
"And a Muslim, who wasn't born here", but
I'd take any one of them back.
Let it not be lost to history, that
From Anzio to Normandy, the All American
And other divisions from these States united
To fill God's green Earth with the rotting corpses of
A generation's worth of white nationalists, who
Divided Jewish children from their parents, and
Sent them all off to die.
And that is a fact that you are free to deny.
But history is written by the victors, so
It's "U.S." - all of US - not just some of US
That records our past, and determines our fate
Without regard for all your hate, and what
You mutter to yourself as you watch
The evening news, nodding along as it spews
"…you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides."
And twenty-thousand other lies.
This is how our freedom dies.
So many of our boys were buried where they fell
For God and Country - so far from home,
In bombed out Hells, because
We believe… all people are created equal,
And to call your self an "American", and
Not hold that truth to be "self-evident"
Is nothing short of mortal sin.
Yeah, it's true that some are more equal than others.
And we proved that - all the way to Berlin.
We've all got crabs!" An old timer exclaims.
And everyone laughs out loud
Knocking their plastic cups together…
All American - and proud.
"Well you know how to get rid of them, don't ya?" someone says.
"The Os scored a run! Ain't the beer cold!"
The big woman shouts over his answer
Involving clippers, a lighter, and an ice pick.
We all laugh, "between being from Maryland, and
In the service who hasn't had crabs" I hear
Rolling my corn in the butter at our end of the table.
The kids are still playing ball together,
The group is bigger now, and
It's turned into a real game.
Some parents are yelling out encouragement, some
Razzing them, threatening to show them "how it's done".
My daughter taps me on the shoulder, and
Asks if she can go into the hall to cool off
With her new friend.
"Sure. Which one is she?" I ask.
She points to the little black girl
Watching the game from behind the hoop.
"She's the one in the yellow tank top".
"Stay together" I say to her, and
She runs off to fetch her,
Taking her by the hand.
"Ain't the beer cold!"
I mutter to myself
Ain't the beer cold.
~John Patrick Starling