going out for ice cream & beer

a closed system of toxic waste
that’s me
sending this cooling liquid
around the red hot nuclear fist
and then drinking it

— what nourishes you
makes you sick
said the doctor
talking about my food allergies
but really talking
about me
and my mother

her name popped up on the bank
computer today —


and i was there again
at the source
watching the river turn bad
drinking my own salt

if i could
i would eat a gallon of fudge
ice cream
sit back
and watch my head fill up
with clouds

let the rain come

wash it all away

a woman comes in alone
sits in a booth
soup salad cheese sticks
spinach dip and dinner

she eats it all and orders
another dinner
then dessert
the table is too small
for all her dishes
she hunches around them
as if someone might try
to take them away
i can tell by the way she avoids
my eyes
she is ashamed

my brother’s arms are thick
as my legs
all day long he moves
furniture, boxes
in and out of the moving truck
at night he can’t sleep
and he rearranges
his room
all night moving
furniture as if it could change
his life
if only he could get it right

he told me
he had an alcoholic seizure
lying on the couch
fifteen minutes after finishing
an algebra problem
his arms went weak, then numb
he dragged himself off the couch
crawled to my mother’s closed bedroom door
and banged his head on it
until she opened it
looked down and said

— idiot —

“The acts of eating, fasting and vomiting
can easily become symbols
of affection, control and anger.”*

the counselor is talking
about feeling helpless
as a child
the defenses we learn
she says

to be vulnerable
and to be present
is to feel
like you’re going to die

it’s 1976
key largo
holiday inn
and my brother is failing
my mother wants him
to work on his economics paper
so she tells him
she’s selling the house
and moving out of the state
if he doesn’t work on it
my brother loves
his neighborhood
and his friends
he’s just lost
his father
and this is all her has
i watch my brother
walk to the wall
and bang his head
over and over
it is like watching myself

“. . . never having been approved of
as children; never having been rewarded;
never having had the satisfaction
of having an impact on their world;
never having received a consistent,
freely given, unconditional
love. Most of what they have known
is rejection.”**

my father has a triple
heart bypass
they release him
with a set of instructions —
no alcohol
for three weeks —
i laugh —
think you can do it?

he scowls, gruff —
of course i can

he stays with me for one week
eating fudge ice cream
drinking creamed and sugared coffee
manic, grinning
typing his novel on the back porch
he says —
i feel

after one week
he wants to go home
we stop at the store
he picks up
two gallons of wine

my brother calls
says my mother wants
to kill him
he’s afraid
for his life
asks me what to do
i tell him
to lock himself in his room
he says
can’t you think of anything better
than that?
she’s got a razor blade
in the kitchen

last night my boyfriend was angry
he told me
as long as i loved someone
who neglected and abused me
someone who didn’t love me
i would stay sick
he was talking about my mother
i said — then do you love me?
he wouldn’t answer

this morning
i was born
into my feelings
my arms around his neck
i said —
you have to love me
because i’m beginning to be attached
to you

he said —

my brother is in the bathroom
throwing up
my mother yells —
you’re not throwing up
in the sink
are you?

you better not be throwing up
in the sink

don’t you clog up
the sink

my brother remembers our family
as happy and normal
he says he was a holy terror
who got away with murder

my mother remembers our family
as happy and normal
when i ask how much
my father hit my brother
she says —
every chance he got

tonight my brother drinks
half a jar of instant coffee
then all night opens
and closes the door
going out to 7-11
for beer

the next night
when mother and i go out to the movies
she’s terrified to leave
my brother alone
she thinks he’ll commit

i dream that i see
two potent layabout young men
stab a woman to death
i hear her screams
now i have to leave
taking nothing of my old life
not my car or my name or my mastercard
i have to leave before they find me
and kill me too

i know what it’s like
to be a young woman in an old city
to hear my skull crack
on the cement of the night vacant
parking lot
to ride the city bus with the bruise growing
in my face
i know what it’s like
to be a child
watching the bruises blooming
red and maroon and purple and black
all over my ass
in the mirror over my pink
skirted dressing table
flowers the size of my father’s hand
i know how to feel nothing
even as i tell you
even as you sob
into the image i’ve given you
and if you hit me
don’t think
i won’t hit you back
don’t think
i won’t be ready
for the fight

not to be seen
not to be heard
never to be known
as a child

my father says —
shape up or ship out

now my brother stands over
my mother with his bulk
and his volume

she’s in the corner
asks —
what do you want it for?

louder, he says —

she squeaks out
a defiant

i watch her

crumble and shatter
i watch her scurry
for the money

after he drinks
the can of bush beer
and throws it up
he’s nice

Wendy Shaffer

*When Food is a Four Letter Word
Paul Haskew and Cynthia Adams
**Grown-Up Abused Children
James Leehan, Laura Pistone Wilson


One thought on “going out for ice cream & beer

  1. kevin says:

    very powerful stuff / it insists you ‘sob into the image’

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