How to Love an Alcoholic in Two Parts, Ending with a Drunk Stumbling Down Maryland Avenue

               After Hanif Abdurraqib

by Terrence Shambley Jr.

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
substitute teacher
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.

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