Poetry: Selections from Peter Mladinic

The Stork
One afternoon I spoke intermittently, but 
mostly listened to Robin talk from Crane, 
Indiana, about whether to have the child
or not have the child she carried, a fetus 
a month old. Her parents didn’t know, I was
the first to hear of.  I walked a paved path
adjacent a four-lane road, phone to my ear.
The sky overcast, no threat of rain, close to
me, planted evergreens, to go with the walk.
On the other side of the road a Stripes, then
a white-steepled church, like a wide V, at a 
corner. Thinking of its shape reminds me of
the Vietnam memorial, designed by Maya 
Lin, I’ve only seen in pictures, only the wall
is black granite, with all the names. Between
Stripes and the church a Baptist student 
union, and past the church the start of a 
small religious college’s campus, it’s white 
buildings on a hill.  October, green fading 
from the grass, up there and down where I 
walked. Crane didn’t have a Stripes, only 
one 7-11; a hundred miles from Indianapolis,
where Robin had Elaine, new grandparents
Robin’s people waited in a corridor. I think
by then I was friends with her mom, but had 
never seen either woman, and still haven’t, 
seven years later. Elaine turns 7 in March.
But that day was October, the sky overcast 
as I walked up a little past the campus, then
turned around. By that time our talk had 
ended. Robin was thinking not to have 
Elaine, to see a doctor about the fetus, but 
she didn’t have the money. Maybe you 
should do that if you feel it’s best and get 
the money. Eventually her parents found out
and were upset, she kept it hidden from 
them for four months, she’s like that.  Like 
what?  To herself, one thing I liked. I thought:
you made me love you, a forty year old with
long hair I’d never met. I’ve never even spent 
a night in Indiana. You made me love you? 
I did that myself. She’s a single mom, a bit of 
gray in her hair, a job at a place where they 
grow weed; it’s legal. Before I met her, 
online, friend of a friend I knew here in Niles,
New Mexico, she was a dealer’s mule. She 
loves her daughter, whom she carried inside 
as she talked.  I walked past evergreens
that were a brake between path and road 
and on the other side the white steeple. I 
think of the names on Maya Lin’s wall, a girl
age nine, going up to the wall with pencil 
and paper and shading in a name. I spoke 
on the phone with Robin two days after she
had Elaine, no complications, there she lay, 
in Indianapolis, an infant at her breast. 

The Birth of a Nation
Miriam is better looking than Evelyn?  In 
some pictures, Evelyn’s upper lip puffs 
slightly bigger than the lower. That’s Evelyn 
from an angle. Full face, the pictures..
amazing, a face could be “that” beautiful.
She’s “the” Gibson girl, hair piled, or, let
down, dark tresses enfold the fairest face.
At 14 a model men write to, paw, and beg.
A child, and her mom encouraging it. Then
the Stanford White murder she had nothing 
to do with. The trial, the crazy husband.  
She’s only 19.  Everyone says Evelyn Nesbit, 
all her life used by men.  She didn’t say it. 
Nor had she self pity. She managed. Got by. 
In a 1933 short, a beer hall broad belts 
a jaunty tune, Evelyn: at 14 the girl in the red 
velvet swing, at 19 Mrs. Harry Thaw. This
classical aquiline nose, high cheekbones in 
a face longer than Evelyn’s oval, belong 
to Mariam Cooper, lecturer, author of Dark 
Lady of the Silents, Margaret in The Birth of 
a Nation, an epic film of Deep South evil: 
poison in juleps.  Eyes peak over a fan..stirs 
the air.  The belle on a verandah looking out 
for her KKK—is you, Mariam in a doorway 
the Colonel’s daughter, elder sister in a light 
gown, her long hair’s sheen all for valiant 
riders.  Their mounts’ hooves raise dust, 
Klan terrorists.  In DeMille’s before-talkies, 
extras, actors, everyone is silent. Off set, 
shooting for today finished, she asks Raoul 
Walsh, her husband,  Where are we going? 


Mr. Gordon came in one Monday and said
he’d talked with Malcolm X, I’m not sure
for how long, but I could tell he thought it
significant, we knew who Malcolm X was.
Our room seemed shaded, with good light
coming through windows like slits, long,
rectangular. I sat near them, Mr. Gordon’s
desk was also near that light, it was as if
ours was a corner of light and shade, like
a basement, only it was the ground floor.
Paul Arthur was in that class, who,  years 
later, with his knowledge of film taught me
to appreciate the genius of Yasujiro Ozu.
But Paul and I didn’t know each other then,
in high school years, in Mr. Gordon’s class.
Mr. Gordon’s interest in things outside our
room genuine and keen, one day he asked
about people in the city, lying stupefied
in doorways and near trash-littered curbs.
Why were they there, drunk and listless?
I said because they were lazy. Another boy,
Michael Epstein,  indignantly replied they’re
not lazy!  Mr. Gordon agreed with Michael.
My answer, based on what my father said.
Were they lying drunk in doorways because
they were lazy, these people, some women,
mostly men, who looked more like Malcolm
than like Mr. Gordon? Today my answer to
why they were there like that would be it’s
complicated. That day in 1964 in our room
my answer was “lazy.”  I hesitate to admit
I was wrong. The question didn’t call for an
either/or answer. I felt embarrassed, not by
Mr. Gordon but by the mood of the class.
All I know is Mr. Gordon said he’d talked to
Malcolm X. We all knew who Malcolm was.
Mr. Gordon had thick wavy wiry hair. Black
framed glasses, thick lips, and olive skin.
He’d gone into the city to a political rally
over the weekend, Malcolm gave a speech.
Mr. Gordon cared about racism, he cared 
about poverty, crime, injustice. Like Malcolm
he was dissatisfied with how things were.
So was Michael Epstein, and, I suspect, Paul
Arthur, whom I never knew then, but got to
before Paul died. He mentored me so I knew
good from bad cinema. But why were 
people lying in doorways and along curbs in 
the city?  I answered and felt embarrassed.
I wonder what Malcolm X would have said.

Peter Mladinic’s fifth book of poems, Voices from the Past, is available from Better Than Starbucks. An animal rights advocate, he lives in Hobbs, New Mexico, United States.