By John Hicks
What you first notice,
his hands cracked and battered,
in places raw,
from dredging oysters,
his bare living,
from the bottom of the Chesapeake.
Scarred by the Chesapeake,
nails missing or broken, you notice
one fiercely black. A life
in salt and sun, battling
the toughest months, he harvests oysters
for Baltimore’s linen-covered tables—raw,
on the half shell, silver-smooth raw
softness that belies Chesapeake’s
icy keep of oysters.
The hands you see
steered his weather-battered
skipjack while dredging for living
delicacies; rough hands taking silky, living
creatures. Today is cold and raw,
and it’s Christmas. He’s here in his battered
truck—though he was earlier on the Bay.
He’s pink-shaven, and we see
he’s bearing a mason jar of oysters
like a glass chalice, for our oyster
dressing—a gift from his living.
In Rumbley, people barely notice
him, his manner direct, even raw,
tutored by the Chesapeake
like other oystermen in the same battle.
A finger was long-ago broken
by a winder raising an oyster
dredge from the Chesapeake.
It set badly—part of the living.
The Bay’s lessons are raw.
His handshake is the last thing you notice.
After talk of arsters, he rises and, with long-ago Chesapeake manners, makes the toast. To this house and family, to friends living and dead, to those battered by life, we’ll see you ashore. This whiskey, it seems, has found the raw spot in our throats.
Copyright Hicks 2021