Wintzell’s Counter

Photo courtesy of Wintzell’s Oyster House, Mobile, Alabama.

Before we have six seats and a trough of oysters,

before J. Oliver slathers the wall in homespun,

Charles Peters sells squash here, and canned beans;

he sells bed frames & dressers & side tables;

he sells insurance against rising waters;

he sells whatever will send nine daughters and sons

through college. Because in 1891, a black man

can build two stories of clapboard for $2,000,

two blocks from the Creole Fire Station’s

fast horses, those racetrack rejects,

because first to arrive on scene gets paid. Because

the ghosts have not yet realized they are dying.

Fifty-some years later, a merchant marine

gives us West Indies by way of Mobile:

crab lumped, layered in fine-chopped onion

& the kiss of Wesson oil,

& the slap of iced water & how God

means for salad to be served, on a saltine.

This is the last all-wood joint on Dauphin Street.

The secret, we’ll say, is in the cider vinegar;

a hundred jaws of minor angels, macerating the haul.

Sandra Beasley is the author of three poetry collections–Count the Waves, forthcoming in June from W. W. Norton; I Was the Jukebox; and Theories of Falling–as well as a memoir, Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life. Photo by Richard Bickel.