Barbecue

Just a Little Too American

Barbecue

You’re just a little too American I think
As your family called one another chink
At the bizarre United Nations barbecue
Where your half-black cousins raced to meet your Mexican girlfriend
Where your German speaking uncle took offense to my name
Repeatedly asking, “Is that Italian?”
While your dad beat steel tongs on the grill
Leaping flame in the air
Screaming homespun epithets,
“Shitty burgers! Fuck pants!”
While your mother cursed and ventilated hostility at the children
Who couldn’t stop spilling beverages
Ranting and threatening, “I’ll beat all your asses!”
I believed her and feared for them all
Then came the introduction,
“Everyone, this is my semi-white boyfriend. He’s Italian.”
“You don’t seem Italian?”
“Are you from NY?”
Because all Italians are from NY
And who were the French speaking people?
Did anyone understand them? Or know them?
Oh, and your pothead brother lectured about kind bud
For two hours!
While your gangsta uncle smiled, revealing gold teeth
Agreeing with your brother, “Crucial. True that.”
While you and your family surreally conversed in fake Chinese
Because you’re all Chinese –– but none of you speak the language
As a stereo haphazardly hung from the second-floor window, blaring country music
To your insistence that the hundred roaming cats were raised for consumption
Amidst diversity’s chaos and American exceptionalism,
You quick cast a smile to me between your antics
And the day was perfect.

~~~

Written 2012-2013

If The Lost Vodka Infusion was not my last free verse poem, then this poem had to be. This poem also represents my failure in free verse to capture the moment with the emotion desired and returning to this piece later dissatisfied immensely.

I seem to remember writing this shortly after returning from a trip to her parent's home. I tried to capture the moment's humor but found my focus centered on her family and friends joking about race and nationality. The American obsession with race, ethnicity, and nationality is always present even in fun circumstances, and the ability of Americans to overcome diversity’s barrier struck me as true American exceptionalism. A party of people who firsthand experienced stereotypes and prejudice, their laughing at that hatred is remarkable. Even more exceptional are the vast numbers of people who choose to laugh rather than swing the fist. For me, choosing laughter comes from the same impetus driving the pen to describe that beautiful Chinese girl, with no regard for anything but her smile.

Photo by Elijah Boisvert on Unsplash