“Barbecue Service”

I have sought the elusive aroma
Around outlying cornfields, turned corners
Near the site of a Civil War surrender.
The transformation may take place
At a pit no wider than a grave,
Behind a single family’s barn.
These weathered ministers
Preside with the simplest of elements:
Vinegar and pepper, split pig and fire.
Underneath a glistening mountain in air,
Something is converted to a savor: the pig.
Flesh purified by far atmosphere.
Like the slick-sided sensation from last summer,
A fish pulled quick from a creek
By a boy. Like breasts in a motel
With whiskey and twilight
Become a blue smoke in memory.
This smolder draws the soul of our longing.

I want to see all the old home folks,
Ones who may not last another year.
We will rock on porches like chapels
And not say anything, their faces
Impenetrable as different barks of trees.
After the brother who drank has been buried,
The graveplot stunned by sun
In the woods,
We men still living pass the bottle.
We barbecue pigs.
The tin-roofed sheds with embers
Are smoking their blue sacrifice
Across Carolina.

-James Applewhite
James Applewhite: Selected Poems, 2005

One of the 10 Poems Every North Carolinian Should Read


Did you ever see a Barbecue? For fear

You should not, I’ll describe it to you exactly:—

A gander-pulling mob that’s common here,

of candidates and soverigns stowed compactly,—

Of harlequins and clowns, with feats gymnastical

In hunting-shirts and shirt-sleeves—things fantastical;—

with fiddling, feasting, dancing, drinking, masquing

And other things which may be had for asking.

Southern Advocate, July 1827