By Peter Mladinic

Declawed Cats Shouldn’t Live Outdoors

Put on an optimistic face.
It’s the only way to meet oblivion.
The blue t-shirt that reads
Optimism. No one wants to sit
In the cyber
Café and think about oblivion
Or in the movies before the coming attractions.
Did you notice the beginnings of Public
Enemies and The Big House,
How those shuffling convicts’ feet
Are identical? Homage was paid,
Is paid, in film, art, poetry, also
Most likely in soccer, basketball and baseball.
Optimism is the only way to meet
Oblivion. Wax a Chevy
Pickup, buy a bag of Cheetos.
The cashier puts silver coins
In your hand, your hands briefly touch.
It’s so quick, almost
Subliminal. Read her name tag
And get a piece of chalk. Write
Her name on a wall. Either that
Or go to Walmart or into Our Lady
Of Fatima Church and dip
Your fingers in holy water.

There are many things I cannot do
And even more that I can.
I can have a cat declawed.
I have the strength to
Peel an orange.
It’s no crime to think about
Oblivion, just don’t think about it
Too much, don’t let it consume you.
If you do, you won’t be popular
Though not everyone wants popularity.
Sometimes you might want to
Sink into the woodwork, to go unnoticed, alone
In the peanut crunching crowd
Who are walking and walking,
Or maybe an audience watching
Twilight, or sitting
In a clinic waiting
To go in and see the doctor.
Some suggestions for optimistic
Acts: Polish your shoes, go out
On a date, ride a rollercoaster,
Scream. It won’t be the scream of oblivion.


In Cather’s story, “Paul’s Case,”
after the coach rides, the baths,
the tortoise shell brushes, mirrors,
satin sheets, chandeliers,
plush carpets and ornate tables,
after the champagne and caviar feast,
Paul takes his baggage of flesh
draped in soft clothes
onto a final coach
into final woods, and down to the tracks,
and hurls himself into the path
of a locomotive,
choosing this form of death over poison,
pistol, or rope. It seems
he wants nothing to remain of Paul,
wants Paul himself obliterated,
wiped clean from earth’s map,
no corpse, no likeness for mourners
to view and close the lid on,
and lower into an earthen hole.
Now, a hundred years after Cather’s Paul,
a father named Paul bids his family
not knowing it’s his final goodbye.
A farewell in the dark: he leans
to kiss his wife’s cheek,
and then to the room of his sleeping son,
also Paul (an only child of an only child),
and leans and kisses his son’s brow
and, with light approaching from the east,
walks out his gate and leaves
his familiar street, not knowing
the finalities of these minutes
remaining, unknown to him, this Paul
of September 2001, and to others
“on floor” when the plane crashes
through, and the sky falls
and turns into a celestial inferno.
Nothing left of September Paul
and those on his floor, nothing left
of the floor, or the shoes
he was wearing, or his teeth,
his wallet, nothing left there.
How could he have so much, one moment,
and then not even his teeth, his hair,
his family. How different his case
from that of Cather’s brooding protagonist.

First Haircut

In the small shop, in his mother’s lap,
scissors clipping his fine
three years old hair,
he won’t remember mirrors,
the electric razor, the barber’s hand,

but something of this hour,
like a memory of first steps
or some other early childhood first,
may come back.
Such moments light the dark hour
we fade from loved ones and all things.
For him, may that time be far off.

His mother’s pride,
he keeps cool under the strange blade.

Work With Me

I wrestle a chewed bone from a Rottweiler’s jaws
I sing in a choir in St. Patrick’s Cathedral
I hold a silent film actor’s hand in a cemetery
Near a zoo. Don’t stop loving me.

I haven’t harmed the dog or sung off key or stolen
A bouquet at the foot of a headstone.
I plan to get the actor to his scheduled train
And make certain his niece, Heidi, will be
At his point of arrival.
Maybe on the way to the station we’ll stop
In a bar, where I’ll buy him a Manhattan
And myself a gin and tonic,

Though nothing’s certain. I’m not going to
Put him on the wrong train or lead him
On foot across a frozen lake.

We’re visiting the stones of actors he once knew.
I, who have wrestled a bone from a Rottweiler’s jaws
And sung in a church choir, met the actor years ago
In a drugstore in Calais, Maine.

His wife was blonde and beautiful, who now is
Ashes. His name is Robert Metzler, whose
Niece will meet him at his destination, Washington D.C.
I’ve never met her. My name is Darrell Moore.
I once lifted a child onto an elephant.
A man, a stranger, led her round the elephant’s ring
And nearby was a carousel. That was before I
Knew Robert Metzler, before I started singing, before
I came to these stones and found you among the living.

Peter Mladinic has published three books of poems: Lost in Lea, Dressed for Winter, and Falling Awake in Lovington, all with the Lea County Museum Press. He lives in Hobbs, New Mexico

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