By Peter Mladinic


Backyard sun and shadows and birds
chirping takes me back to one birthday
winter night at the Texas Lounge.
We took turns at karaoke.  At the mic
I was attempting “Bernadette” as sung
by the Four Tops.  Shots of courage
I’d gotten from the bar didn’t prevent
my voice’s faltering, uncertain sound
when Levi, almost a stranger, stepped in
and helped me with “Bernadette you’re
The soul of me..”  He died a year ago,
suddenly, Levi, taller, younger than I.
A wind in the oak behind my cinder-
block fence, birds are chirping.
Across the alley a small dog barks.


Oh, trees are here
but they’re like redwoods’ opposites:
a bit sickly, unremarkable or this:
where there’s a stand of trees (planted,
I’m willing to bet) near a duck pond, they
stand out because trees are sparce here.

Like the trees the pond, too, was arranged.
Other places, trees and ponds happened
all by their lonesome.  No one forced them,
but not here.  Tumbleweeds float across
a four-lane highway, dry brittle heads of hair
you wouldn’t run your fingers through
but could if one would stay still a minute.

Always on the move, like wavering
treetops in wind, though tumbleweeds go
forward, not back and forth.  At least storms
don’t knock down many trees.  Funny
it doesn’t bother people we have no trees,
or very few.  “If you don’t like it you can’t
walk up and down a hillside of trees, move
someplace you can.”  Easy to think about,

hard to do, to pick up and go.  I’ve been
in cities with hills of trees, winding paths
flanked by trees planted, as they were here,
by horticulturists, lots of trees to counter
or rather complement the brick walls.  Here
the brick walls lack tree shade, also
they’re not high.  Like trees they’re scarce. 

Plenty of aluminum buildings, ugly
structures to go with the sickly trees.
The wide open space, flat ground
to get out on, some days evokes freedom,
others emptiness, like a room that’s empty,
someone takes a last look around.

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