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