Poetry: Selections from Peter Mladinic
The shop teacher told you you’d end up
being a factory worker, but you died
before the dream could be fulfilled.
Paul, I’ve worked in a factory.
One morning I was counting boxes of meat
in the freezer. This woman’s face came before me.
It was peaceful, and I’ve known other nights.
I desire teenage girls in Glencoe, autumn
afternoon drives along Sheridan Road.
Why am I so afraid of being alone?
Have I ever had an orgasm at the same time
that my lover has had an orgasm?
Sex is all, and all to good to be true.
That’s what the doctor said, that afternoon
I didn’t call you back from the dead
to cry for my life in the waiting room.
I make love to three women in five days.
Señor Blues is what they call me.
Each time I plunge into my loneliness
I dream of a factory.
Twelve years ago we hitchhiked
past the spot where you’d be underground.
We rode shoulder to shoulder on a bus
to have our pictures taken
by an older man living in a lonelier city.
I knew the dark, thick skin of your body,
your uncircumcised penis, the tone of your
voice in a closeness as intimate as love,
and you used to think I was beautiful.
The Difference Between A and Z
When A talks to people she uses their
names, Z doesn’t; that’s it right there,
that’s the heart of it. Both are beauties.
I’m sure in Z there’s a soul, a garden.
Her tattoos, her back, her chest, an arm,
a leg are like ivy climbing a wall. One
a script: I love you to the moon. Maybe
you is a sister, or a big love from the past,
a man, his name whispers in the dark.
A, no tattoos, pale but not too pale skin
unblemished, long, straight, very dark
brown hair. Noticeably taller of the two,
she always calls people by their names.
And she doesn’t wear a nose ring, nor
does she have piercing an eyebrow
a safety pin, nor a stud near a lower lip.
She’s clean. Which is not to say Z isn’t,
only, with your blonde hair pulled up
showing your perfect neck, why don’t you
once in a blue moon speak my name?
I think it comes down to breeding. A
must have had good breeding. I think
when a person speaks to you and uses
your name…Z teaches. You think she’d
know the importance of that, of speaking
a person’s name when talking, or texting
or in a letter. Do people write letters
anymore? I’m not thinking of these, Dear
Reese Johnson, we write to inform you
you’ve been accepted at Monmouth
Teacher’s College bureaucratic affairs.
But a letter from one friend to another.
Z’s hiding something is what Dorrie said
when I told her about this blonde woman
she doesn’t know, and I know only a little.
But I know her better than I know A. At,
let’s call it, The Crematorium, I see A
walking into a room, standing in a corner
or, in the lobby, staring out a window.
She’s breathtaking, pleasant to be near.
Mistakes in smoking jackets, in Speedo
trunks and goggles have memories
of animals behind bars at the zoo, train
memories, cape memories of jumping off
a roof thinking they could fly. I can’t jump
rope. I’m not afraid but don’t like
making mistakes. My attitude,
I have an attitude, a chip on my shoulder,
is one of loving hate. I hate that l love
them, love that I hate them.
Hate the fascist whose boot heel cracks
wings of roaches, love the actor who died
saving the child in the hotel fire, though
they’re not around to take the green
rose of your love into their arms.
Mistakes are like penguins in tuxedos,
dogs like Laika on Sputnik. We test them,
try them out. The mistake went way out
there and came back whole? No,
she was a stray, died after only a few hours
in orbit, WTF, for the good of humankind.
I hate mistakes. They made a mistake
sending that dog to the moon. Look
at what they’re doing now in the Ukraine.
We in the United States are as screwed up
as the Russians, almost. Mistakes are like
regrets. They gave us Chekov, they took that
dog off the streets and named her Laika
to entertain the public, so little
kids could look out their windows at night
and say, Oh, Laika’s up there,
a pioneer, a galaxy captain. This dog
in the end let us down. Disappointed she
didn’t survive, disappointed in Laika,
we turned to the Nixon-Kennedy.
Some thought putting a dog into space
the right move. Were he alive
Chekov might have thought it was a big
mistake, a cruel experiment,
Laika’s dying for Russia, for humankind.
He’s at a lake and sees this guy beating
a puppy with the chain of a leash, tells him
to stop; the guy takes his cell (he’s calling
911), throws it in the lake, threatens to beat
him up, he’s eighty years old, this is in North
Dakota, where he retired from practicing
dentistry years ago, lives with his second
wife, and loves their three dogs and one cat.
When we met he was in dental school. We
had a laugh when Amanda (his first wife)
said her father said, I hope those protesters
aren’t disrupting (protester) Tom’s studies.
We met in Wilson Library’s smoking room,
where they were non-smokers. I knew her
better than him. She had long wavy hair,
liked to laugh; he drove a gray VW bug.
Our smoking room circle rippled wider,
into cafes, movie theaters, house parties.
One of us, Brian, became an MD, I was best
man at his and Theresa’s wedding; he, tall,
blond; she, short, Japanese American from
Chicago. I lost touch with them, and Steve,
Colleen, and Marty. One night Amanda
and I in the bug drove out to Lake Harriet
in the dead of night, looked around, nothing
more. Early one night a few years later she
came to my apartment, by that time, she
and Tom had split up. She sensed I wanted
her, I could sense her edginess as she left.
I’d never wanted to sleep with her when she
was Tom’s wife, but I did that night. By then,
our circle broken up, I’d lived near Lake of
the Isles, in the top half of a house where
Kate found a dead mouse in the refrigerator,
I lived with her and her younger brother for
a year. Lake of the Isles is in the Mary Tyler
Moore Show, Mary on a tree-lined path in
winter is how it starts. I think they are Dutch
elms. Tom would likely know. A dentist, he’s
scientific, specific, likes steam engines,
and loves his pets, which is our bond today,
pets, animals. We haven’t seen each other
in forty plus years, same with Amanda,
his ex, who likes flowers. When he told me,
not directly, but posted on Facebook
about the guy beating the pup, I wanted
to go up there and put my arms around him.
He was shaken up. Such a good man.
I don’t know why we lost touch all that time.
When we started talking again Tom had
already retired. Like me, he misses
Lake Calhoun, which I bicycled to; Harriet,
where I walked and one night I saw the poet
Charles Rakoski; and Lake of the Isles.
What happened to the sick dog beater?
Tom’s not one to let something like that go.
Peter Mladinic’s fifth book of poems, Voices from the Past, is out now from Better Than Starbucks Publications. An animal rights advocate, he lives in Hobbs, New Mexico, United States.