“Boobs in a church.” The frat boy
“Boobs in a church.” What did you say?
in the front row looked at me, I at him.
out nouns in magic marker: umbrella/
Monday night, Freshman Comp. I’d passed
courthouse; rabbit’s foot/ tunnel; wallet/
gym. Boots/ church, her prompts.
From the back, her high-pitched voice,
boots sounded different. A slim neck,
hair pulled up, dark eyes, flawless skin,
petite, shapely, she had to be there
as did I, if I wanted a paycheck. Spring,
April. Fountain pen/ swimming pool.
A stolen pen, the pool members only.
Tennis racquet/ nightclub; penguin/ ring.
There were animal cards. In an open door,
Saturday morning, mortgage-free, two
baths newly remodeled, I wonder where
she is. Outside our room, Discover
the Last Frontier, an astronaut tiny in
a galaxy poster on a board. The astronaut
helmet comes back silver. How did I get here?
How does anyone, where they are?
Toothbrush/ stadium. Wilbur brushes his
teeth in the bleachers. Fourth quarter
fervor. He clutches the wrong end.
In his hand, soggy bristles. A buzzer
sounds. A ball bounces off a rim. Crest
clouds the water in his red cup. His
Nighthawks walk off the court, their third
consecutive loss. Two other cards,
mirror/ cemetery, belong to a Suns fan.
He had a really lucid essay on injustice,
about Black people getting screwed over
by the bail system. It wasn’t a rant, clear,
ordered, it made me think, he’s dead right.
He was always dead right, a prophet really
for troubled times in cities, car jacking,
mugging, armed robbery, much of it done
by people strung out. He knew that life.
He could have inherited his father’s dry
cleaning business. But he went in the army
and in Japan got stung out. Anyone wants
to preach the nightmare of strung out
should read one of his novels, Black Girl
Lost the one title comes to mind.
But he had many, and that his murder til
this day is unsolved, is tragic. He died,
literally, at the typewriter, someone broke in
to his apartment and shot him,
some paid assassin. He’d made enemies.
Try as he did, he couldn’t shake the life.
A croaker before that word was popular,
in prison he read Iceberg Slim and wrote.
He could have gone to a good college.
Self taught he lived what he wrote and he
wrote well. Dopefiend has a passage:
a young woman hangs herself on a shower
rack in a motel bathroom. It’s riveting.
The ugly truth of what drugs did to her.
What drugs did. He had a choice,
more so than the woman whose life ended
in a restroom. He and his father died
only a month apart. Only his father,
of natural causes. Pimp, junkie, storyteller,
Black man, he wrought true fiction,
a world happening far from the tidy house
set back from the white picket fence.
High Dive Board
I’ve got to go to the tip and spring a little
and not look down, and feel the spring
go from toes to chin, then not just jump
but dive and maybe not bellyflop but do
a dive that wouldn’t win the grace-agility
award but at least pass so I’m no longer
a high dive virgin. I’ve got to dive. After
I’ve done it I can know, in my body, grace
or my imperfect grace, that differs from
placing the palm of my hand on a spike
of a gate that marks off the living from
the dead, at Gates of Heaven where you lay
six feet under, who once walked to the tip
of the board and bounced a little before
diving beneath the blue water’s surface,
emerging with a gasp before swimming
to the pool’s ledge, climbing out shaking
water drops on stone, you and your shadow
in afternoon climbed the ladder’s rungs
to dive again; and now your remains lay
near a sign: rest in peace. I’ve got to make
the dive at least passable so when I’m out
of the pool I can say I did something
you once did, again and again and do
no more, never to look up at white clouds
in blue sky before toes make that spring,
all of you shutting out what’s below:
girls in their fallen straps on blankets
in green grass, and toddlers holding hands
of their mothers in the pool’s shallow end.
Only you and the sky at the board’s tip,
you making it spring, then diving, no more
dives for you. It’s my shadow on cement,
moves with me, Jan, as yours moved
past the girls on blankets, the guards
in chairs, the swimmers and sun tanners
past all of it to the ladder, your wet feet
on the rungs, hands on aluminum rails,
you climbed to where it was you and sky.
Peter Mladinic’s fourth book of poems, Knives on a Table is available from Better Than Starbucks Publications.
An animal rights advocate, he lives in Hobbs, New Mexico, USA.