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  • Writer's pictureJohn Patrick Starling

A Crab in Every Pot

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

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