Monday, March 05, 2007

Gregory Djanikian

In our household, a line from a poem by Gregory Djanikian occasionally gets quoted: "My shin, my shin!" I was surprised to discover just now that I don't own the book the poem is in (Falling Deeply into America) and that it is not from the title poem of the book (but from a poem called "How I Learned English"). We use the phrase to refer to moments when one uses the wrong word by accident (especially if that word is in one's non-native language: my German, Andrea's English). In Djanikian's poem, he describes being hit in the head by a baseball shortly after his arrival in America, upon which he clutched his forehead and shouted, "My shin! My shin!" His playmates were so amused by this that he began to feel included in their group.

All this came to mind with G.D.'s poem on Poetry Daily a few days ago, "My Name Brings to Me a Notion of Splendor," in which it is the name "Djanikian" that generates the narrative of exclusion as an immigrant and then inclusion at the end. Here's the poem's conclusion:

I would have to unravel the tangle
of circumstances that put me in a small
landlocked lumber town in Pennsylvania
face to face now with Joe Schunk and having
to explain the D was silent easy enough
to say once you got the hang of it but Joe didn't
and it was five or six fast blocks of losing him
down Hawthorne and across to Pine my heart
thumping and beads of sweat glistening
on my arms before I heard Louisa Richards
suddenly call out DeeJay to me from her porch
in a way that stopped me in my tracks
because nothing had ever sounded so good
and nothing came easier than to walk
up the stairs and sit down by her
and begin telling her who I was.

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