How to Love an Alcoholic in Two Parts, Ending with a Drunk Stumbling Down Maryland Avenue
After Hanif Abdurraqib
by Taiwana Shambley
No one can tell the boy
after his father swigs
from a ruffled paper bag
he is still his father
and not a rogue spirit.
The hand friendly with his mother’s neck
belongs to a ghost. If it turns to you
and says, Son, this is how you choke a bitch
call it least favored
and not the knife still wet
with a lover’s blood
or the decorated basketball star
dropping 40 in their home
court. Just play a 80’s beat
so celebrated all the kids his age are scared
to rap to it
and the boy’s father is a fan favorite
to everyone mama
except the boy’s.
When I say I wanted the man in the hospital to never leave I mean I wanted his head
piked clean on my mother’s nightstand. The bones of him scattered in the rooms of
the only house his other family could afford and this is not another language for love.
The family moves to the empty house down the block and now the man’s not the only
thing me and them share. He strolls up and down Maryland avenue, his chest puffed
like an entire country, probably on the way to watch the rec kids around the corner and
there’s only so many different ways you can spot a wolf. Before it sinks teeth into the
only place you can call home and you close your eyes and wish for a new thing to call
sleep, or, a new truth worth closing your eyes for. A long pull from the stink hanging on
your cousin’s lip, or a book that lies so well makes you forget the birthdays of all your
half-brothers. When I say I wanted the man in the hospital to never leave I mean I
wanted the shards of broken bottles to rattle up his throat while everyone we loved
watched with their hands pressed underneath their chairs. I think I’m better now. I sit
in my mother’s living room and pick through progressive theories, wondering which
one will teach me how to love. And when she says to me with a bucket at her feet and
Mary J. Blige singing through the walls
Son, do you think my breath smells like your father’s?
I don’t tell her I buried the bottle
of vodka she chilled on the porch
that winter morning I was too little
to hurl the thing.
I don’t tell her I heard a thump
the other night and clambered up the steps
to help her shadow off the kitchen floor.
I don’t ask if she remembers.
Just turn my neck towards the window
and mourn the man still stumbling down Maryland avenue.