poems by Peter Mladinic

As I Look in the Glass


Comedians are getting attacked on stage,

sailors are committing suicide on ships.

As I type this, one of my best friends

is undergoing a triple-bypass.  Hard times

for many, good times for others.  Look

on the reality side, I tell myself, as I think

to look in the mirror.  Forest fires rage,


turn cabins to cinders, cows drown,

flowers in a vase wither on an altar.

In a corner with only mattress on the floor

a young woman tells a slightly older man

No, her arms crossed over her face.

I recall one late morning: a young woman

behind a counter, with dark good looks,


at an animal shelter tells me, “That haircut

makes you look younger.” A fresh flat-top.

I, a man doing all I can to stay above ground

to help animals, wonder, Should I keep

my hair a flat-top or grow it out?

As fires rage, as, in some city a homeless

man on a bench is kicked awake by


a drug-addled youth, as flowers wither

on an altar, as a woman holds up her arms

in defense, and, in a city far from where I

am typing this, bodies lie in a street.

On both sides stand houses: crumbled

roofs and walls, doors off hinges, broken

glass of windows blown out by a blast.




Being a Father




Daddy Practice is doing it with love:

getting up every two hours at night

and holding the name of your unborn son.

Daddy practice: the words she won’t understand

the first time you show Roberta, your daughter,

a river.  If you hear a lake loon and say

“listen,” she’ll know by then the loon’s cry.

You blow over the top of a spoonful of broth you’ll spoon

into her small mouth.  You’ll be the audience

as he, your son, says “Mama,” his two syllable

Gettysburg Address. You’ll leave

him, later, in a room where he pledges an oath,

takes a train to a camp and then boards a plane

that lands in a war zone.  She’s thirteen

and no girl scout, somebody you thought

you knew.  A cinder in her eye brings a tear,

but not yours.  You’re a practicing daddy,

a stranger, someone she doesn’t understand.




It’s like nothing else you’ve ever done.

Still, you say it’s like practicing to fly

and land; first you must get the plane

up in the air and through the clouds.

The bouquet you give a friend recovering

from hip replacement you give over and over.

In tree shade, at an iron pump, for practice

you cup your hands and drink the water.

You name two sailboats on the lake, and name

trees behind you as you stand alone on shore.

This is Lake Michigan, then Lake Calhoun

and then Lake George and eventually

Last Lake, as there will be a last bouquet

and a last face you see before you shut down,

with your son Robert holding your hand

and Roberta talking in the doorway with Doctor Phelps.




It’s like batting practice or learning to pitch

low and inside, and yet it’s not.  A child whines

and whines.  Shut the hell up,

you feel like saying; then soft, tender things.

You don’t want Robert,

when he’s grown, to say “I never knew him,

though we lived together eighteen years

and he picked me up and carried me

on his shoulders and held me there, closer

to heaven, as he spoke to a man outside

a red cottage with a green roof.  He loved

my mother, but rarely showed it.”

You don’t want Robert or Roberta saying that.

So you practice to get the thing right,

or wrong as few times as possible.




“It’s the one thing you can’t practice for.

Once a father always a father,”

your mother tells your aunt. These sisters

who were mothers speak

from the grave.  Part of the immense

invisible.  At night you look at stars

and can’t convince yourself they’re up there.

Their husbands were fathers who practiced

at the keyboard of vast mistakes made by

any father: the father of our country,

the father of American poetry,

the father of failure standing at a mirror

knotting his tie.  Not yet a homeowner,

Robert’s going to a dance where he’ll dance with

a doll-size invisible shape. Or this:

he dances with your name,

carries it smartly across the floor.

poems by Peter Mladinic

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