Pizza and Warfare by Nikki Wallschlaeger

Nikki Wallschlaeger’s work has been featured or is forthcoming in P-Queue, The Brooklyn Rail, LIT,  The Journal Petra, Apogee, Jubilat & others. She is the author of the full-length collection Houses (Horseless Press 2015)  as well as the graphic chapbook I Hate Telling You How I Really Feel from Bloof Books (2016). Her second full length collection of poetry, Crawlspace, is forthcoming from Bloof Books in 2017.

excerpt from Pizza and Warfare

She knew all the phone number for   the bars her daughter   my mom   frequented & they knew her     who was I looking for this woman   that wouldn’t come home her red Ford Tempo     lusty war cupids calling through her life with tacky patriotic forget-me-nots   she had lots of boyfriends after the war during the war     people drink a lot in wartime   people make a lot of love in wartime   people are abused in war time   shots of   cinnamon baby’s breath   beer ingredients harvested by beefy men in the fields another   white working class strong armed bullshit story of the good poor     with busted   blood vessels the next morning and a bag of shame   the poor come home to their poverty sometimes the battlelines thinned & she brought home a peace offering   16 inch circles covered in   white forgiveness paper   underneath was a bright guilty sauce   dairy state cheese   chunks of steaming meat   relieved she made it home ok without getting another DUI     no more yelling       just feeling emotionally subdued   drained   a mushy relieved emptiness eating a comfortable familiar meal   stretching my shirts out by hugging my knees to my chest     the tabletop is briefly warm a   blood donation     an aftermeal   benson & hedges cigarette smoked   in the tattered glass house       angels of rapacious peace passed out in the moonlight       Barbara Walters interviewing war generals from a bloodshot country in another part of the world   green night vision cameras of Iraq   you could see the bombs falling to the earth like stars snowflakes   we watched   we were too small and distant to have any real opinion   and besides there had to be a good reason why the United States was there     a mysterious   tyrant named Saddam Hussein   so i became afraid   of tyrants     my country had no tyrants just freedom peace pizza and families trying to get by   making money   buying things   fear bugged at me anyway   would anyone come for me at night   the sandman in that song by Metallica my mom loved that song   i became nervous   didn’t like to sleep in rooms with mirrors   still don’t   my mother who was away at night   who believed in war     who believed there was always a clear enemy and a clear hero   “we live in the greatest country in the world,” she said     she still believes it even as she supports people that hate her daughter because her body is black

She said when she was pregnant with me she craved it       they went to Pizza Hut constantly   hot August & ruthless September   I hear them talking     I hear him but not as frequently     after he leaves   I heard crying     he sends a few care packages in the mail     toys and clothes but no money no money ever   Ronald Reagan is the first president I ever saw on television he was a very important old white man with dark hair who didnt think about people like us   the war being dug around and gaining ground in the Big Cities   he talked a lot about crack on the battlefields in   black poor neighborhoods as I grow up it will spread to marijuana   and will ruin the lives of many people I know   who live in small cities and who live in big cities   as children we develop in the bunkers we’ve been planted in   different bunkers for different classes and castes     mine is of the white trash black   mutt variety perennials   whitehead pus parts of myself   black effervescence buried deep in that layered death volcano     the smell of pizza baking invades through my hometown proud gas mask   I snatch it up the combo of processed nightshade & the fruits of sad assimilated animals if you are what you eat     I am   angry black heffer harvested from the amniotic seabeds of illegitimate plum trees with a barely traceable yet hypervisible African legacy   the places we could afford to go to   Pizza Hut slime ale glasses filled with domestic tap beer   are more frequent than the memories I have of my father     she cried when she found out she was pregnant with the child   of a black man     the extended family sent letters of disapproval and scorn and shame to these two women i lived with an elderly mother and her fallen daughter I call sometimes when I’m drunk to fulfill an obligation     discussing   safe topics like children, holiday plans, the weather, new job prospects, pets, health ailments, etc.

My memories     are red space and today the rockets red blare     so I order a pizza and I can think again writing through this slew of toppings   things that cover me made me       pushing you off to the side   getting yelled at for wasting food   not cleaning out the refrigerator   not cleaning out the bathroom tub after i used it   stocking up on frozen pizzas adorned with frozen red discs   they are called   tombstones   they hold a temporary fickle space for me in places where I am unable   to remember to protect myself   a coquettish   graveyard on Grand Avenue   an epitaph for our singed relationship   and then that picture of you in your late 20’s     wearing a shiny red bikini with curled flounces   you are smiling   and I look at your tanned belly that once housed me which also looks relaxed     I’m somewhere in this yard   playing   you are mama tanning happily   I am black   it’s your day off   maybe we will go to Angelo’s or Sam’s tonight for pizza   but instead you get ready for a date   you play RUN DMC “You Be Illin” while getting ready   because you know how much i loved that song   your baby girl is dancing   flailing happily in tribute to being in your feminine orbit   I try on your red lipstick I try on my own red lipstick I bought from Sephora in the mirror   it never looks right on me   Kleenex in the wastebasket now imprinted with the remains of mixed race   banshee space where I tried to emulate parts of you but I couldn’t

Since it’s the holiday season again   you are influencing me to second guess myself been making more mistakes than usual       it’s been happening less but back then a regular occurrence     aunt and uncle come to town with their expensive camper & diesel engine truck they are prosperous business owners   they make furniture   benches and shelving and dining room tables with lazy susans many have hearts carved into them as the trend goes in unironic white country craftsmanship     as uncle drinks his face gets redder   he is feeling generous   slaps me across the face in a showy charitable gesture to teach discipline to the fatherless and suggests we all go out for pizza on a Saturday night   he is a seedy vulgar news sewer of praise for the things white supremacist men are about like the title of Rush Limbaugh’s book “The Way Things Ought to Be” on an ageless loop   clinking blinking glasses   his fifth brandy old fashioned     mom gobbles it up   if she can’t be rich she will bask in wealth’s garbled proximity   remains from star shrapnel   on the ground look bright and promising   a quarter made in the year of her birth     the appetizers arrive i get more quarters to play video games   holding a blue plastic gun   shooting the bad guys in the American imagination   ha this naive as hell teenage black girl holding a plastic gun in a restaurant   but it’s time to eat     put down that smoking   gun sit down be peaceful take hostage with the family     take refuge in food   biting the hand that feeds me head down eating hurriedly because I’m hungry   biting down on the bit(s) if you get the highest score   you win a free game   and you can walk away   hungrier than before

In the United States pizza is relatively close   the common red roofs match up like the lines to vote   as in which style of feeding time the people will elect   fresh oxygenated blood blue red blue red blue blue red   its hyperborean manic snake sauce holding us in fallacy   A burgundy choker necklace around my neck to keep my head from falling off like the ghost story in one of my books   the loads we carry for others is the stage for an American ethos story bubbling breath on the battlefields the patched boneland the family kitchen   the streets what are we cooking with when we bring ourselves to the meeting   the ingredients   you are blood bail bonds check cashing storefronts AA safehouses tidy churches burger kings & you want all that casual mediocrity to finally die shattering the convenient atrophied lights of their metered parking lots   you want something that’s beyond this corny ass strip mall developed from plantations and settler occupations   where the love that I had/have   didn’t/doesn’t reach where it counted/counts   I’ve eaten 3 pizzas so far this week   since I spoke to her   working through current war and past war caloric residue   comfort food is the enabling fuel for my tenuous American survival     until we’re comfortably estranged again   I will keep eating and storing bad food for the winter for when I’m strong enough to live without

Into the deep typical   pockets   another conceal and carry   will death be carryout or delivery   writing papers for English courses in the food court on campus   the pizza served in the student union is Palermo’s pizza and they exploit their workers   by busting up attempts to unionize to take some control over their exploitation i wonder how many students   are armed right now while I’m waiting to see my graduate student counselor who tells me she believes in retail therapy   this bright eyed optimistic white girl that looks and acts like Pam Beasley from   The Office   to   cope with my black the fuck what woes     i should just buy something     all of her liberal psychological training   has not prepared her for the   gun shots i hear almost every night on Richards & Burleigh St.   that there was a double murder a few houses down from me and then another one and another one       and another one   and police swarming the neighborhood   and how the police have a tendency to enter the wrong house and shoot whoever is sitting there listening     and how the police have a tendency to swoop down and make anyone disappear and that getting on the Route 60 bus to University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to pay to enter   willingly     into another kind of violence   I’d like to ask my meticulous syllabus writing teachers and administrators just what it is you think you’re protecting us from   when the chancellor’s abundant salary is as high as a silver warbird as high as the price of our collective souls believing in progression so that they can have careers   and our   tuition   my sociology elective pie chart   is lopsided   burnt crust   bombed out   studying for a cardboard box of a degree that gave me daily indigestion   the life of another awkward black student with stories too unmanageable to carry on her own   takes them to class anyway raises her hand   speaks   where nothing is meant to be understood

I told my children when i got home to a torn up house after a long day that if I see those foam nerf fake bullets lying around I would throw them in the trash he likes to go to the toy aisles   at Walmart Target Tj Maxx in God We Trust has blessed us with many eternal children factories where we are hidden from the wars that brought them here in shipping containers     Mike posts a bewildering   map of the world’s cargo routes   each lathered ship a bloody diamond across the bingo pond   diamond spigots in the ears of kings & queens pretending to drown for a large audience   we are basically here to buy up all the cheap jack’s cheese pizzas since the kid is also being brought up on pizza & warfare as a cultural tradition you end up following people you hate eating and engaging in the iconography of entertainment capitalism   because if you didn’t embrace to some degree how would you be able to engage   throwing arms up to a false biting sky   but I will say this:   pizza is not a mirror   it’s professionally groomed evangelical habit of   trickling down ingredients     at least my son understands the difference between nerf guns and real guns at least when you step on the plastic shells of these la-di-da bullets flowering on my red and yellow area rug   they’re soft to the bottoms of my rapturous feet