It is Considered in Poor Taste to Make Racist
Statements and Most Americans Will Not

It was a local joint,
old men who’ve been in the neighborhood since they were kids.
This is true southern Brooklyn,
not the one they sell you on television.
We’d been coming there for awhile
so the locals had gotten used to us
the way a zoo animal will get used
to its neighbor
simply though unchangeable conditions.

In all the times I had never seen a black person
in the bar,
hell, even one of the locals was called Roger the Racist

and he once threw his hands in the air and loudly proclaimed,
Oh I get it, the black people have it so bad. Oh poor folks being

So when I passed through the doors
and saw a black man sitting there I was surprised
but after he spent the evening
telling Roger
and old Benny, the bartender
all about his tattoo joint in the Village

and all the women he’d fucked

Benny leaned over and said,
you know kid,
you’re okay,
you can stay.

And he nodded and started to tell
the story about the last woman he fucked
and how she got sick while giving him head
and they all laughed loudly
and I looked around the bar
and remembered

that I was the only woman there.

Ally Malinenko is the author of poetry book The Wanting Bone (Six Gallery Press) and the children’s book Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb (Antenna Books). She lives in the part of Brooklyn voted to have the best halal truck.

Author’s note: “[This poem is] from the How to Be An American series that I have been working on. The titles are variations on sentences from Culture Shock: USA a book by Esther Wanning written to acclimate new Americans to our culture. It is a collection of sweeping generalizations about this country that ring so true it’s both hilarious and frightening.”