Poetry Sunday: “Crab Feed,” by Kathleen McClung

[From the WVFC Poetry Archive. First Published July 7, 2019.]


                         for my father, 1936-2008                

My stepmother tells us come hungry, come ready to eat
gumbo and crab, peach cobbler. She mails us tickets
with smiling cartoon crabs, cursive letters: No Host Bar.
Music. Raffle. A funeral home near the freeway,
one of the sponsors, address and phone across
the left hand edge. No Outside Alcohol on the right.

Tom jokes he’ll give me a tutorial on the right
way to behave at a Catholic church dinner. My plan: eat
slower than usual, nod agreeably, anchor a napkin across
my lap, accumulate Mardi Gras beads. I doublecheck: our tickets
nestle between some fives and ones in my wallet, the way
I safeguard Giants tickets, coupons for Clement Street Bar

& Grill. But these are friendlier documents somehow, no bar
codes to be scanned, just cartoon claws, a knife in the right,
fork in the left. My stepmother floors it all the way
to the church in her Scion. I almost yell, “Eat
my dust!” out her backseat window. We’re outlaws. No ticket
tonight. We hurtle into the parking lot, snag the one space left across

from the entrance festooned with crepe paper. Above us, the cross
unsways in the twilight. She locks a red bar
onto her steering wheel, we hear the engine tick
for a moment, and it occurs to me that everyone must write
a poem about a church crab feed eventually. “Let’s eat!”
Tom almost yells and swishes his palms together in that endearing way

of his. She’s happy we’ve come with her. I can tell by the way
she finds our table, our last name, hers and mine, in ink across
butcher paper on the Formica. She’s brought all the right tools to eat
this meal, unpacks them while Tom orders wine at the bar:
special bowls and bibs, little burners to melt butter just right.
I’m sure I’ll win a raffle prize—that spa robe?—buy ten tickets

in a strip, like carnival rides. I fling my numbered ticket
stubs into a wire tumbler, luck humming through me the way
it does sometimes when I least expect it. We are doing the right
thing, the three of us. Worship takes all forms. I look across
rows of heads and beads. Tom balances chardonnays from the bar,
my stepmother lights candles below the burners. We will eat

in disposable bibs, listen for digits, redeem more drink tickets across the bar.
A girl—is she 20?—eating to my right will talk about rehab, the man upstairs.
“Way to go,” I will tell her and nod over the shells we have broken.


“Crab Feed” won the Grand Prize in the Ina Coolbrith Circle 98th Annual Poetry Contest in 2017 and first appeared in the 2018 issue of river Sedge: A Journal of Art and Literature. Reprinted here with permission of the author. 


Kathleen McClung is the author of two poetry collections, The Typists Play Monopoly (2018), available here, and Almost the Rowboat (2013). Her work appears widely in journals and anthologies, including Mezzo Cammin, Unsplendid, Naugatuck River Review, The MacGuffin, cahoodaloodaling, Forgotten Women, Sanctuary, Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California, and elsewhere. Winner of the Rita Dove, Morton Marr, Shirley McClure, and Maria W. Faust national poetry prizes, McClung is a Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee. Associate director and sonnet judge for the Soul-Making Keats literary competition, she teaches at Skyline College and The Writing Salon in San Francisco. At Skyline, she directed Women on Writing: WOW Voices Now for ten years, welcoming poets and fictionistas of all ages. McClung is the 2018-2019 Brown-Handler writer-in-residence at Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. Author photo credit: Hilary Buffum.

View a video of the author reading in March 2015 at Bookshop West Portal here, and read her January 2016 interview with Evan Karp here.


Poet’s Note

In a weird postmodern way, “Crab Feed” echoes Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church.” My sestina tells the story of attending a Catholic church fundraiser one night with my partner and my stepmother. Both were raised Catholic. I was raised a mix of Methodist, Presbyterian, and Unitarian, and I lean in Unitarian directions now; my partner’s a UU minister. Despite some initial trepidation, ultimately that night I found the crab feed exhilarating—truly a form of worship. Alone in nature, Dickinson saw the sacred in a bobolink and an orchard. Surrounded by people wearing bibs and cracking open shells at long Formica tables, I saw the sacred too.

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