A poet savours the jumbled flavours of America’s July 4 immigrant picnics

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In this election year, the weekend after Independence Day may be a good time to consider the different possibilities each immigrant sees in this very American holiday.

In Armenian-American poet Gregory Djanikian’s evocative offering ‘Immigrant Picnic’, the Fourth of July is the chance to be “grilling” together as a family, all the cold dishes — potato salad, macaroni, relish — laid out and recent Americans trying out Americanisms with a twist. So, mum accuses the young Djanikian of “running around like a chicken with its head loose” (rather than cut off) and “being on a ball” (rather than on a roll).

At one point the poet thinks 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.

I can’t help thinking that “jumbled flavours” of America is a simply remarkable metaphor — allowing the reader to touch with mind and tongue the many layers of hyphenated meaning and the many political and cultural underpinnings of the national story.

Read the poem in full below.

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.

Originally published at www.rashmee.com on July 8, 2016.

Journalism by trade & inclination. PhD. Sign up for free email updates on https://www.rashmee.com email me at rashmee@rashmee.com http://muckrack.com/rashmeerl

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