Published by Garden Door Press
Author : Nikki Wallschlaeger
Price : $10.00
Pizza and Warfare by Nikki Wallschlaeger opens with a facebook post about a visit to an optometrist’s office. It describes the humdrum act of getting your eyesight checked, suddenly decussating it with an investigation of instructional language so rampant in use throughout our daily lives. The writer remembers being told to “just look at the target till it turns green”. The simple and seemingly innocuous instruction makes her “overwhelmed with nausea and dizziness.” The sub-conscious locks in with the stimuli in its full amphibian pursuance. Almost instantly this opening page of the shortbook sets the tone for a visceral inquiry about black selfhood, childhood, womanhood across multi-pronged sociocultural zeitgeists. The act of objectification experienced as a child, a woman & a black citizen against the political backdrop of capitalistic, war-mongering that is nourished by the calcium of those very bones it tries to bury deepest.
This book is a tenacious sprint that uses both an intuitive alertness as well as cued recalls to perforate, tinker, upend and thereby continually disturb the history of one’s own childhood in context to a country that must finally come face to face with its own insatiable appetite for destruction.
Nikki excerpts memories of growing up as a young hyphenated American girl – child of a white mother & black father – during the Iraq war but her storytelling isn’t linear or continuous, instead it unfolds in stances narrating how a young girl waits for her mother to come home from the bar hoping that she is accompanied by a large pizza not a DUI charge. A mother she idolizes but also feels distanced from on account of something she can’t fully recognize because the socially articulated constructs of racial identity haven’t yet been parsed in her psyche. There is evidence of sensing incongruities in who she is forming into v/s who she is expected to become. The war’s persistent theater is the atmosphere of this unfolding and while she knows of its existence, is bombarded by its perpetuation & accompanying chest-beating patriotism of belongingness & singularities, the entity itself– quite like the mother – is also distanced, occurring elsewhere away from her while simultaneously impacting her in ways she can only experience without accessing.
“my country has no tyrants / just freedom peace pizza”
In the event of this book is the possibility of discerning America less as a country & more as a self-perpetuating code – occasionally, a search-engine’s algorithm that has learned to modify itself to the grooves of those who programmed it. In order of priority, the occurrence of “freedom peace pizza” is particularly revealing as a latent array – that US has no tyrants possibly because it IS a tyrant? In the present-day political scenario, this seems prophetic & exhausting at the same time. Also, who cares about the presence of tyrants when there is a promise of free, peaceful pizza? Nikki almost possesses an inordinate capacity to tear through the chicanery of common cultural idolatry. She can and will winnow through every simulacra even if it comes at the cost of baring what is coarse in her own compulsions, the entire echo of collective vulnerabilities. It is rare that an account so personal, so veracious has the patience to also enlarge itself and become the necessary tuning fork which traps the systemic dissonance of growing up as the black kid of a white mother in 80s and 90s USA.
“there was always a clear enemy.”
In her arresting poem “[Kills bugs dead.]”, Harryette Mullen writes – “A pin-prick of peace at the end of the tunnel of a nightmare night in a roach motel. Their noise infects the dream. […] Wipe out a species, with God at our side.” Very rarely have lines of such clement turns wrought rigorous the ambition for war – both internally & externally – as an act of redemption, an act simultaneously broken into violence & veneration. For generations, people have always been given a target, much like Nikki at the optician’s; a conclusive bull(y)’s eye to train their frustrations on. In “Persepolis” Iranian author/illustrator Marjane Satrapi demonstrates the power of suggestion when she recounts how if an average Iranian under the fundamentalist regime was continually made to worry about the colour of their socks, the amount of hair showing from their veil, they wouldn’t have the time to question the larger usurping – their democratic rights, the safety of their children and family, the quality of education etc. In the US, the regime is not always overt, it is under-bellied. It moves through adumbration & in parentheses. Soviets were Enemy No I when I was born. Now, the same country has purportedly hacked the most recent American elections and exerts considerable power over the current political brass. However, a large percentage of American masses voted and continue to argue for a racist megalomaniac who technically has never had an ethical compass and has somehow managed to sell it as his USP. There are moments of reckoning within this book that come recommended for all Americans – these moments exist to help confront within themselves whatever toxic mythologies they have upheld in the name of unaccounted narcissism of Whiteness’ social design. It is a touch deleuzian to state this but – State Violence externalized in War. State Violence internalized in Law. Who has been held up to be shoved down this automatic’s mouth? Who really is the enemy for an average American today?
‘we develop in the bunkers / we’ve been planted in”
“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”
Not gardens but bunkers. Again, the semiotics doesn’t betray itself. Nikki’s life revealing its bared veins like a leaf pressed between the pages of a forgotten book. What I find golden in this announcement is her ability to speak for something and someone beyond herself while retaining the authenticity of a voice that refuses to become a general mouthpiece. Nikki W., even in the most brutal of admissions, is unflinchingly her own first and that is potent, is powerful.
I am not a black woman even though like Nikki I am a biracial child who came into existence by way of a broken relationship. My own childhood shifted across many tectonics of trauma. I know that USA built its bunkers on the labour of black women. I am not an American but we almost grew up during the same war in the 80s and when I first went to America, every punctuated reminder of acceptance in that long, profound alienation of being brown, foreign & experiencing intimate partner abuse on its grass & gloss, was an interaction with a black woman. The first person who smiled at me across a sea of tired, queued up bodies in the immigration trail when I landed at an American airport. The first stranger to hold a full conversation with me in a public place was the most august black woman with a peacock colored scarf. She asked me about my shoes and where did I pick them up from. Upon hearing my accent, she chuckled and said – Ah! You are from London? No wonder you are so impeccably dressed. While I waited for my now ex to park his car, two black women staring at the sky pointed me towards the sun and said – Honey! Look! Look! Have you seen something so beautiful!” For 5-10 mins we all stared at the prismatic halo shrouding the sun in a goldenrod-yellow embrace. The whole evening was the weight of feather afterwards.
The poems in Pizza and Warfare alternate between confessions and reincarnations. Nikki’s ingenuity lies in the process of facilitating enduring transferences through the length of this book. You look back, look at, look in – the book alive in its proof of privation that is as Individual as it is Colonial. You are present at the dinner table watching a child mercilessly thrown into certain depths of hunger that could drown any grown body and yet you watch this child, uncertain & isolated, bubble up to the surface, time & again, trying to reengage the consequences for seeking nourishment on her own terms. Nothing is striving, in simpatico with the yearning for a planate denouement. None of its articulation will spare you the necessary bitemarks where the teeth seek their flesh & juice. However, as you learn through its travels, its strength was never to adorn itself with a false narrative of unblemished survival but to ask all those who encounter it – From whose war are you eating and indeed, whose war are you feeding?
Scherezade Siobhan is an Indo-Rroma Jungian social scientist, community catalyst, and hack scribbler. She is the author of a chapbook, Bone Tongue (Thought Catalog Books, 2015) , a full-length poetry collection, Father, Husband, (Salopress UK), poetry pamphlet,”to dhikr, i” (Pyramid Editions, forthcoming) & a second full length collection “The Bluest Kali” (Lithic Press, Forthcoming). She is the creator and curator of The Mira Project, a global dialogue on women’s mental health, gendered violence, and street harassment. She can be found squeeing about militant bunnies, here, or @ zaharaesque on twitter/fb/ig.