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  • Writer's pictureJohn Patrick Starling

Updated: Aug 23, 2020

Sweet local corn

Steamed crabs

Cheap beer

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.

"Over there."

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

  • Writer's pictureJohn Patrick Starling

-Requiem for hardened hearts


For the better part of

Two hundred fifty years, 

And longer still…

There's been this struggle among us, 

An epic test of wills that, like so many far off wars

That never will be won, but

By the setting of the Sun,

And the beginning of the day, anew.

Night is coming across our land

And again, it's time to choose a side, be 

Declarative about your Constitution,

Who you are.

And where you stand.

Sixteen Twenty? Sixteen Nineteen? 

Who knows nowadays which came first, 

America's "original" - or aboriginal sin.

And where, and why did it all begin?

A pure hearted pilgrimage gone bad

Pale faced, poxed and suffering refugees 

Arrive "at last, at last…"

And still they die in tens of scores, 

Widows, marry widowers, and 

Swaddle the infant of yet another

Mother whose husband also died…

They buried her well outside the village, 

Wrapped in blankets, 

So the men who dug the grave

wouldn't touch the open sores.

And in Jamestown, there were already slaves.

"It's good country, new, and vast, and fertile -

If a little wild  - and overgrown with savages, 

But this land is our land, and the slaves will tame it for us

And the Indians are dying off as fast as we can kill them anyway, so

The only thing remaining is, what shall we name it?"

God called upon some of us, 

But not the better of us 

To hold his fellow man, woman and child  in human bondage

Tethered to each other in iron chains, and separated 

For financial gains, because…

"...we need a breeder, and that girl child -

We don't yet need her...

Just another 'nigger' mouth to feed."

And so, they were sold, off 

To separate plantations.

This is how oppressors build wealthy nations.

But, come Sunday go-to-church, sit and listen 

To the new preacher use the Old Testament,

To justify, and testify that...

"In this great State, in which 

We have finally found ourselves,

As in Biblical times…

This is the Will of God.

After the service the children are welcome to play together 

As long as it's with their own kind."

The girls skip ropes, and share their hopes

And squeal, as the boys try to push each other down

And then they clasp their hands together saying 

"This is the church

And this is the steeple…"

But some of God's children,

Weren't people. 

Seventeen-hundred and seventy six

Some stood for, and some stood against 

This "Word of God",  but all argued His meaning, 

Our reason, economies, and leanings

Throwing words like cannon balls. 

Foreshadowing battles to come

They faced off together in ale houses

And hallowed halls.

Quaker abolitionist argued 

From the highest rafters of the New Covenant…

Down to the simple, sturdy craftsmanship 

Of the table, set upon the wooden floor.

They remained locked, 

In rhetorical battle with their Southern counterparts,

Like so many doors.

And finally…

Chained together in the indelible ink of history, 

Of common threat, and thusly common cause…  

They reckoned themselves once and for all

To be "Free men", and therefore self-determined.

And so, it was settled.

We settled.

So the Southern landed gentlemen, and 

The poor white folk beneath of them, could maintain 

Their property rights, and dignity, and 

Standing in society, forever more.

"We are endowed by our Creator 

To be of two races, of which we are the greater.

Our superiority is plain to see, and evidenced by Divine Providence… 

For we are not the ones in chains."

Are we not?

I think that question still remains

To be answered.

Contempt for the suffering, and suffrage of others 

Is a long untreated cancer of the soul

From which, there honestly may be no cure. 

Except to treat each other, and thus our selves well,

With love and compassion 

And the constitution to endure.

For if we seek the better part of us 

There is salvation on God's golden shore, an end

To the wheel of Dharma that keeps us wanting  

More, and more 

And more.


It's complicated.

We're a mixed and mottled nation, 

Battered, bruised, and yes… 

In some ways broken.

But, unbowed.

We are red, white, black and blue.

We are brown, and we are Asian.

And we are brave - and we've been "yellow" too.

Drafting an army, and napalming our way through

The jungles of South East Asia, just doing what we do.

While little white men talked big shit in Washington, while

Dodging what they all knew, to be self-evident - and true.

That love is the answer. 

And if you cannot see that... 

I wish you only rest, and peace,

You must be exhausted.

Contempt fatigues the soul, and

Hate is hard work...

Categorizing other humans, 

In order not to be the least.

It requires so much effort

To hold each other down, while

So high above the - "other".

I'll admit that it takes strength, but 

That's strength that you could use for all of us

A strength that truly makes you stronger.

Some would argue, and 

I'm among those who would,

That love itself is what constitutes these United States

And holds U.S. together, when we begin to drift apart.

Falling far from the message of Christ

And the better angels of our Creator, our 

Declaration, Constitution, creed and code.

That we are bound together, not by the chains of history

But by the moral imperative to shoulder each other's load, well

Into the future.

If I could, I'd go back in time…

Not to right the wrongs of peoples past

But to you, when you were a just child,

I'd sit you on my lap and listen to you cry

And let you tell me who it was 

That hurt you so bad that time - and why?

Or listen to the sorry stories you were told,

Passed down to you like Gospel gold from your family tree

From which you're dead certain your vindication will someday be hung-

A notch above the big limb where "them coloreds" used to be strung.

But child, that tree is gone to ground now, and

Those sap stories are getting old, but 

I'd listen thoughtfully… 

To the victim stories you were told.

And maybe we'd discover then, 

that "he" or "she" or "they" or "them"…

All those people that have hurt you,

They've all been hurt by someone too,

They hurt just like me, and

They hurt just like you.

And no it isn't fair what happened, that 

Dimmed the better part of you, and 

Dulls the better part of U.S. - but that's over now

And it's time to choose, in which "God We Trust".

You my lost and lonely child have this 

Golden chance for freedom

That comes with each morning Sun

Arriving as the simple Truth 

For you to reject, or behold. 

Before you get too old 

And set in your ways. 

Before the end of days, 

Before the darkness 

Settles in your ageless soul. 

Breathe the past in deeply

Exhale… and let it go.

Let it all go, 

And start anew

White people.  

Start anew 

Black people. 

Brown people. 

Red, and yellow people too.

Take a good honest breath, and

Let it go into the wind… 

Into the trees, and the rivers - and 

Back to the wandering seas.

Back from whence we came, 

Be it across the Middle Passage, 

The Northern Atlantic, 

Or the Bearing Strait.

Back before we started keeping score,

With colored spray, or finger paints

On the sides of the walls we've built between us,

And long before that… our fire-lit caves.

Back before we were all slaves.

I'd travel with you, if I could,

And intercept your childhood, and

Shine a brighter light, and lend my voice

Not of reason, fact or faith

But, to help you make a better choice

In that moment when you so unwittingly resigned

Yourself to trading love for hate.

I'd hold you gently, and redirect you, 

Warning sternly of your fate

And how it so weakens U.S. 

One and all…

And will someday consume the best of you.

But not the better of U.S. all.

~John Patrick Starling

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