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 goodbye, 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.
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