Monday, July 2, 2012


It's really really hot this week in southern Wisconsin.  Today it hit 100 degrees in Janesville, and it was not dry heat.  There's a burning ban in effect in most of the state, and lots of Independence Day fireworks displays have been delayed or canceled.  Not here though - I guess shooting pyrotechnics out over the Rock River is safe enough.

I'm not sure if the ban extends to outdoor grilling; I don't think folks would stand for that.  The heat got me thinking about this 1956 snapshot of Grandpa Tess, dressed up in his Fathers Day apron and cap, cooking burgers on a very low-tech grill. Genius at Work is what the get-up says.  I remember that they set up picnic tables in the garage, and we all settled in for burgers, chips, potato salad, and Cokes.

In the background our old green car is there, heating up in the sun. Nobody had air conditioning, and cars certainly did not have any way to cool down except by rolling down all the windows - by hand.  It made for some steamy vacations.

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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