Saturday, July 2, 2016

July 2: Mutts of the World, Gregory Djanikian, "Immigrant Picnic"

One of the traditions of Independence Day celebrations in the United States is the picnic.  Hot dogs and hamburgers and watermelon.  The barbecue grill smoking.  The meat sizzling.  Last year, I think my kids were running under the sprinkler because it was so hot.

There's something very free about cooking and eating outside.  Even though we have gas grills now that ignite with the flick of a switch, barbecuing still feels rustic.  It makes me think of pioneers cooking deer and beaver meat over a fire.  (Okay, I know I'm venturing into Little House on the Prairie territory here.)  It's a connection that is very real for me, though.

I know the citizens of the United States did not invent the picnic barbecue.  It's a tradition that was probably brought to this country by all kinds of different immigrant groups.  But that's what America is all about.  We're the mutts of the world.

Saint Marty can't wait to have a little German bratwurst on the Fourth of July.

Immigrant Picnic

by:  Gregory Djanikian

It's the Fourth of July, the flags
are painting the town,
the plastic forks and knives
are laid out like a parade.

And I'm grilling, I've got my apron,
I've got potato salad, macaroni, relish,
I've got a hat shaped   
like the state of Pennsylvania.

I ask my father what's his pleasure
and he says, "Hot dog, medium rare,"
and then, "Hamburger, sure,   
what's the big difference,"   
as if he's really asking.

I put on hamburgers and hot dogs,   
slice up the sour pickles and Bermudas,
uncap the condiments. The paper napkins   
are fluttering away like lost messages.

"You're running around," my mother says,   
"like a chicken with its head loose."

"Ma," I say, "you mean cut off,
loose and cut off  being as far apart   
as, say, son and daughter."

She gives me a quizzical look as though   
I've been caught in some impropriety.
"I love you and your sister just the same," she says,
"Sure," my grandmother pipes in,
"you're both our children, so why worry?"

That's not the point I begin telling them,
and I'm comparing words to fish now,   
like the ones in the sea at Port Said,   
or like birds among the date palms by the Nile,
unrepentantly elusive, wild.   

"Sonia," my father says to my mother,
"what the hell is he talking about?"
"He's on a ball," my mother says.
"That's roll!" I say, throwing up my hands,
"as in hot dog, hamburger, dinner roll...."

"And what about roll out the barrels?" my mother asks,
and my father claps his hands, "Why sure," he says,
"let's have some fun," and launches   
into a polka, twirling my mother   
around and around like the happiest top,   

and my uncle is shaking his head, saying
"You could grow nuts listening to us,"   

and I'm thinking of pistachios in the Sinai
burgeoning without end,   
pecans in the South, the jumbled
flavor of them suddenly in my mouth,
wordless, confusing,
crowding out everything else.

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