by Peter Mladinic
Pull over in daylight.
Take the exit ramp.
Pull over. I need to tell you something.
Pull into the rest area, please.
By the time you get back
into parkway traffic,
life as you’ve known it
will have taken flight.
Finding home, Poe’s raven
perched on your roof.
Words can’t silence its caws,
nor can summer thunder.
Earlier you walked through my door.
The X-rays, the lower back pain
we’d hoped was nothing..
Please, pull over.
From now on
all things compared to this
will be smaller, or greater:
the windshield, the parkway’s
green and white signs
in the midday glare,
your children, grandchildren.
Are you driving? Please, pull over.
Sleeping with a Student
The book is open.
Leaves on the trees are dull green.
We muddle through: no absolutes,
no one answer, no one person says
I’m the one with the answers.
We muddle through the book,
through the traffic of sidewalk pedestrians.
No step-by-step guide,
no full dark beard to disguise who I am.
No, but sometimes I wear a mask
so I don’t even recognize myself.
We muddle through: our hands
in tool chests search for the right wrench.
We muddle through wind and rain,
the paper mill stench
one night in late September
riding with a man who learned
English from the writer John Kennedy Toole
and piano from Toole’s mother.
We muddle through the tunnel named
after Lincoln and the tunnel unnamed
and muddle through a parking lot
listening to Lee Dorsey or Johnnie Taylor’s
song about celebrities in heaven.
We muddle through light
and through pages of a paperback
Confederacy of Dunces. Muddle
through a pet shop, wall to wall
cages. Muddle through a spacious
dining room with doors
leading out to gardens of purple,
white and blue flowers. Muddle
through directories and classifieds
and cupboards needing canned goods,
cupboards like minds waiting to be filled.
To muddle through means man,
horse and tree live together.
The man with the book wears a full dark beard.
The face of the man I rode with
that night near the paper mill,
the man who knew the author before
he was an author, before he was dead–
I remember his driving, his voice,
his face growing vaguer each year.
I knew the ex-wife of the man
who sat with his students under a tree
and with an open book in his hand
said, “We muddle through.”
I also knew the student he was sleeping with.
She was with him that next winter
when he had a heart attack.
He wore a full dark beard.
When he said we muddle through
he was responding to words
in the book they’d been discussing,
he and his students,
among them Sandra, his lover.
We muddle through dull days,
sleepless nights, visits from uninvited guests,
expected and unexpected phone calls.
Muddle through the produce aisle
and the marina. Muddle through the texts
and the silence in cages where animals sleep.
Muddle through divorce, hospital,
committee meeting. Good luck,
I say to Charlene, the bearded man’s
ex-wife. She’s getting up from the table
to leave. Muddle through: no one
truth but many. No black and white
but gray. The perplexity, the many sides,
the pondering. The guess, the mistake,
the fall, the daylight, the chance–
all talked about under the tree.
I remember her body language
When she talked about him,
The change in his body that surprised her
In a dreadful way. Her eyes cast toward
The mosaic tile floor, her shadow on the wall
Which had nothing else on it. Her summer
Dress was pale, as were her shoes.
My Schwinn held up by a kickstand was on the driveway.
My father was not there, my sister
One room over from the dining room
Slept in her bassinette. She’d been to the doctor
Who told her his kidneys were not working
The way an eight-year old’s should.
She was crying. Light from the back yard
shined through the two windows
and the one above the kitchen sink.
He would come home from the hospital
In two days. He would be bedridden
And need a tutor for the coming school year.
Her reading glasses lay on the table
In the shadow of the artificial flower
Centerpiece. Worry filtered into wrinkles
In the corners of her brown eyes. Her right
Hand, on her forehead, bore her wedding ring.
She wore no lipstick. Her arms and thin
Shoulders bare, the shoulders curved
Inward looking for an ocean, as if
It offered some escape from what
Was to come when, hours later, the sky
Darkened, and the supper dishes were drying
In a rack as she stood staring into the dark
Out the kitchen window.
I pictured myself a gray-haired forty,
vacuuming a rug,
a glass of white wine
in one hand, in my mouth a menthol 100.
I pictured myself old
and small, with a glass of white wine
climbing Everest; patient and young
with a glass of white wine dining on shark
charbroiled on Bastille Day;
middle aged and impulsive with a glass of white wine
spelunking in Carlsbad; young and curious
with white wine hunting ducks in November;
old and compassionate, convalescing
from knee surgery on a porch with white wine
looking out at sage and mesquite, looking up
at the big sky empty of buzzards at 10 a.m.;
with my glass of white wine in the stands,
middle aged and excited, supporting the Celtics
as the buzzer sounds.
The blister in the palm of my hand
found its voice, the voice of a rose bush
in the wind, with a literary edge.
I took it to the Bob Anthony Studio.
When Bob, the photographer, said,
“Cheese” the blister smiled.
A smiling blister picture sits in my library
next to Ruby for Grief.
I raise hunting dogs. I have a dark side.
On Taurus Mesa
I set the blister on an eagle’s wing.
They soared over a canyon.
“Did you like Bob’s studio? Did you like
the eagle’s domain?”
Its first words questions,
I’d expected talk about the diamond on
a recitation of “Lycidas,”
illumination on “The Singing Knives.”
About the Author:
Pete Mladinic is on the English faculty at New Mexico Junior College. He published three books of poems: Lost in Lea, Dressed for Winter, and Falling Awake in Lovington. Pete lives, with six dogs, in Hobbs, New Mexico.