And so, for those of us who are citizens of the United States of America, our national mid-term elections are upon us. It is a time to reflect upon the achievements and mistakes of the past and to suggest the course for the work ahead. I use the word “suggest” because we cannot readily applaud the good work of those few, honest, earnest politicians without also acknowledging the overwhelming, selfish resistance constantly undermining their efforts. Plato’s unscrupulous flatterers and Lord Acton’s warning of the corrupting influence of power are ever with us.
Each vote given will take one of two shapes; it will be either a nod of approval toward maintaining the status quo or a loud, insistent call to steer the ship of state along a new heading. For the vast majority of us, it must be admitted that we do not know our politicians. Rather, we are acquainted only with the product of their public relation machines, machines which have been working overtime this election season. I cannot recall a more volatile political arena in the recent history of this country. The mudslinging, threatening innuendo, and outright violence are a national embarrassment and if we do not admit this, we should be doubly ashamed.
As we descend into the booth on November 2nd, let us give neither credence nor authority to those who would, on the one hand, use fear to strip ourselves or others of unalienable rights and on the other, entice us with empty promises of entitlement unhitched from the civic responsibilities by which they are earned. In that spirit, I give you:
THE STARFISH AND THE ALBATROSS*
(With my deepest apologies to Lewis Carroll)
The Hermit Crab was in his shell,
Straining from its tight fit:
Despite his discomfort, he made
The very best of it–
And this was odd, because he had
Outgrown it, bit by bit.
The Snail crept by too busily
To give the Crab a thought.
The Crab had business too: a shell
His outstretched claw besought–
“It’s very rude of him to beg,”
The Snail had long been taught.
The Crab was poor as poor could be,
The Snail was blest as blest.
But not a heartbeat could be heard;
Each had a hollow chest–
Pride’s fullness and pride’s scarcity
Had robbed each beating breast.
The Starfish and the Albatross
Observed the pair askance;
They dreamt like anything to see
Such pawns of circumstance:
“If they were utilized with care,”
They said, “we could advance!”
“Through your talismanic fortune
And my unmatched beauty,”
The Starfish asked, “Could we gain from
“I’m certain,” said the Albatross,
“But it’s those shells that give me pause,”
The Starfish spoke with doubt.
“Fear not,” The Albatross replied,
“We’ve but their trust to tout,
To coax the Crab from his shelter
And pull that fine Snail out.”
“O Shelled-Ones, come and wade with us!”
The Starfish told the fools.
“A pleasant wade; success is made
Amid the Tidal Pools.
The Albatross could use a snail
Of your talents and tools.”
The Crab looked on in yearning as
The snail was led away;
There was a time he had worth too,
But that was yesterday.
So, he listened closely to all
The Starfish had to say:
“I’ve started a foundation to
Enable crabs like you
To grow to their full potential,
And earn their earnest due–
We’ll put you in a nicer shell
And fill your belly too.”
Then, the Starfish crawled up the beach.
Eager to match his pace,
The Crab, squirming, slowly emerged
From his dark, hiding-place–
Hope, or something akin to it,
Lit up his hardened face.
His six strong legs raised one soft shell
Above the salty ground
And scurried to the Tidal Pool,
Where sun and surf abound–
And this was odd, because, you know,
He’d thought his pride long-drowned.
The Starfish and the Albatross
Came to the pool’s thin edge,
A fortuitous perch from which
Their bets they soon would hedge;
Smacking their lips, they gazed upon
The life they sought to dredge.
The Snail and the Crab, following
Their benefactors’ lead,
Came to the edge as well and looked
With eyes of want and need–
One felt his gut twist with hunger,
The other’s gut, with greed.
“Your time’s come,” said the Albatross,
“Descend, Snail! Get your fill:
Of algae–plankton–sun-dried kelp–
Behold: The Sea of Avarice–
It’s One Law: Die or Kill!”
“Without delay,” replied the Snail
And slunk into the tide;
There, in his wide, mucus-slicked jaws,
A generation died–
His shell’s girth grew gargantuan,
Nearly matching his pride.
“The multitude,” the Starfish spoke,
“Must all be fed as well;
Stand by me, Crab, so all your kind
Can rightly, justly tell–
Only through me, can each expect
a full gut and new shell.”
The Starfish basked in the sunlight;
It glinted off his skin
And added quite a luster to
His sharp, pearlescent grin–
And to the bits of oyster flesh
That stained his dimpled chin.
The sight drew every eye to him;
His glamour and his fame
Were such that crabs he’d never met
Knew him by face and name–
And so, to fawn upon his grace,
A thousand more crabs came.
The Starfish stretched his five, thick arms,
Whose siphoning tube-feet
Gathered sustenance, to ensure
That every crab could eat–
And as they ate, each carapace
Filled up with rich crabmeat.
The Snail, for his part, climbed back from
The briny killing-field.
The Albatross sang his praises,
Thanking him for his yield;
The Snail, with joy, awaited
His reward to be revealed.
The Albatross, without a word,
Pecked out the Snail’s wide eyes.
And then his tongue–The Albatross
Had wearied of his cries.
The flesh was swallowed last, the shell
Left vacant on the rise.
The crabs, now too fat for their shells,
Began to curse and wail.
“Don’t fret! Look here,” the Starfish crowed,
“My mission did not fail.”;
There, at his feet, lay one, huge shell–
The remnants of the Snail.
“But surely, Friend, you jest; that shell
Would barely house just one.
We must have more,” the crabs cried in
The Starfish tossed the shell to them
And sat to watch the fun.
A riot fast broke out among
This voluntary thrall;
Claws raised, shells cast from sturdy backs,
They waged a civil brawl–
The Starfish, smiling with content,
Consumed them, one and all.
“Well, Albatross,” the Starfish said,
“We’re plump from our fine chore.”
The Albatross, hardly full, said,
“I wouldn’t mind some more.”
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d done it all before.
*based upon The Walrus and the Carpenter, from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, by Lewis Carroll, 1872