Poetry: Selections from Peter Mladinic
The Living and the Dead
When she told me of the surgery I lost all
interest. She never said,
Now you know I only have one,
you don’t want to. I never mentioned it.
We’d planned sex online.
But there was her nasal infection, her back,
her stomach, those to talk about, then
She chose to stay with her cat in St. Pete,
and lost power but nothing more.
I recalled her from decades before, Rhonda.
I knew her only enough to put a name
on a girl with brown eyes,
medium length brown hair, her mouth
a pert red bow,
by a fence near a school. Fourteen, I think.
Later on she married a painter, in New York
met Salvador Dali, in St. Pete her husband
died after years of her caring for him.
Life is a job, she said online, we became
I think of her surgery, and of another girl
by the fence near the school,
Amanda, also with brown eyes, brown hair.
Rhonda never knew her.
Amanda and I once took LSD
in a field behind a one-story elementary school.
She lived by a river, got into drugs, heavy
into booze. Her grave’s near the town
where all three of us lived.
At the time of her death, cell phones
were big walkie-talkies you held to an ear.
She went into a liquor store, last I saw her.
My friend and I gave her a ride.
She opened his back door and said thanks.
The Naked Kiss
When Delmore Schwartz wrote The Naked
Bed in Plato’s Cave, five will get you ten,
he knew he’d belted the poetry ball out of
the freaking park, which was for that avid
baseball fan the Polo Grounds. People see
Naked and think, Oh, this is a Hugh Hefner
romp in verse, then see insomnia’s lights
and shadows and hear the chink of bottles
and truck’s gears as the truck climbs a hill.
The headlights slowly slid along the wall.
Schwartz knew, had to have known he
grand-slammed that one, made indelible
that lyric’s great in the English lyric realm.
He was young, and not old when lived in
the hotel room in Times Square with a full
waste-can in a corner, crumpled Mars Bar
and Butterfinger wrappers on the table.
Times Square, 1964, sleaze-Ville capital,
its XXX Russ Myers marquees in red letters,
news sheets, burgers wrappers drift down
walks, and vomit in curbs. ‘64, the year of
Sam Fuller’s The Naked Kiss. Anything but
a porn flick. Constance Towers, sex worker,
Michael Dante, her man, arch nemesis.
Those two, only ones still alive from Fuller’s
movie wasn’t some dollar-driven junk but
someone, Fuller, trying to say some things
on good and evil in his little known gem.
Its beginning when she takes off a wig and
looks in a mirror. Delmore young, about
the time he wrote The Naked Bed, looked
in a mirror (we have the book jacket photo),
wavy dark hair, face angular, his eyes seem
to be elsewhere, decades before the James
Atlas bio, Bellow’s Humboldt, and the poet’s
journals were published. Schwartz on a park
bench bloated, grim, his eyes afraid of cops
and strangers. We read the bio, the journal,
Stop with the pills, the booze. He had it all,
and died near elevator, emptying the trash.
Since Tom and I snuck out to houses of ill
repute in Danang, it was only natural,
a strip show, the theater, velour curtains,
brass rails in Youngstown, Ohio.
In Danang we snuck, either that or obey
a rule MPs enforced a “don’t” we got ‘round
blending in. In houses we used women,
Tom and I, Bill and I, on rare occasions
I alone, Art Vaught, on my dog tags
B 10, 99, 92. I etched pleasure,
snuck from East Danang across the river
to the city. I hitched rides, looked up,
down, ducked into an alley. Always daylight,
a beaded curtain, a dark room with a bed.
The girl came in, Jane, Hoa, Mai, Ling.
Some days I learned names. Tom was Tom
Book, Seabee second class, New Castle,
PA his home, not far from Youngstown.
You might say, a strip show, how obscene.
On stage, Elaine, her blue bikini decked
with white fringe. Her music, up tempo
“Like Someone in Love.” Elaine dances,
takes off her outfit. Auburn hair falls
past her shoulders. The war is going on.
Peter Mladinic’s fourth book of poems, Knives on a Table is available from Better Than Starbucks Publications. An animal rights advocate, he lives in Hobbs, New Mexico, USA.
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