Immigrant Picnic


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.