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Donald Platt

02-15-08

Sizzling Happy Family

 

                   The mother and father

who brought me into this life on the cusp of the Crab and the Lion

                   now forget

 

to eat.  They line up their dozens of pills on the formica

                   counter and swallow them

with over-diluted orange juice concentrate.  When we visit, I find nothing

 

                   for dinner but three frozen chicken

pot pies.  I take my two children grocery-shopping and cook for all of us

                   my own bastard version of Sizzling

 

Happy Family, the ancient Chinese meal of pork, chicken, beef, and seafood

                   grilled together

with vegetables.  My wife and I eat no meat, so I sauté tiger shrimp and garlic,

 

                   scallops, squid,

summer squash, red peppers, asparagus, snow peas, and Maine

                   mussels with bunches

 

of cilantro and purple basil chopped.  I season it with coarse sea salt

                   and fresh

ground pepper, and serve it with a pyramid of corn on the cob picked

 

                   that day.  My mother

and father stare at this steaming platter of smells and colors

                   harvested from the earth

 

and ocean, cooked for them in desperation and hunger

                   by one of their two

middle-aged sons.  Slowly, tentatively, they help

 

                   themselves

to this strange food.  My mother picks up a mussel in its shell

                   steamed open

 

like an iris in late April to reveal its blue-and-white-enameled

                   inner petals.

She teases out the plump sexual meat and chews its tender

 

                   saltiness.  My father

reaches for the corn, then spears asparagus and shrimp together

                   on the tines

 

of his trembling fork.  “Remember,” he turns to my mother, “Napoli,

                   the little tratoria

where we ate linguini with artichoke hearts, and how we saw

 

                   octopi hung on clotheslines

with the day’s wash?”  My mother holds up a sunburst of squid

                   like a wild wedding ring

 

and stuffs it whole into her mouth.  “Yes,” she replies, “and the red table wine

                   cheap as water

and us on Pegasus, our Harley, cruising down the Costa Brava

 

                   after the war

past the entire Third Army on maneuvers, all those catcalls!”  They laugh

                   together and have forgotten

 

us.  Sixty years slip like an avalanche from their shoulders.  It is

                   another country.

They live on kisses and calamari, tasting everything

 

                   the waiter puts

before them—seviche, its raw scallops, onions, and green peppers

                   over which my father squeezes

 

lime juice bright and astringent as sunlight, then fritto misto.  Keep eating,

                   I want to tell them.  Remember

how hungry you are for all of this.  Belch.  Throw down the napkins

 

                   stained with the prints

of your lips.  Order coffee and the pears with rum.  Have them flame it.

                   Don’t leave the table.  Not yet.

 

                            -from My Father Says Grace