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

the hurricane.

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

online friends.

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.

Strip Show

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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