I could see the scars on her neck
near her throat, and at the top
of her chest when she wore
a blouse with the collar open.
They were flecks, streaks
that stood out in brightness
in contrast to the dark of her skin.
They were varied in size, some
were jagged. They were not easy
to look at. When I was with her
and my eyes fell on the scars
I looked away,
not wanting her to think I was staring.
She got them in the course of one
night, or day
when the creep she was living with
or had been living with
attacked her with a knife,
almost, I think, slitting her throat.
She had children.
I’d like to think they weren’t present
when this human monster
of a husband or maybe only
a boyfriend, lost control,
assuming he ever had control.
How could she have ever gotten
involved with this guy?
Maybe when she met him
he was different. Maybe
she worked at a desk
in an insurance office and one day
a florist’s delivery driver came in
and up to her desk with a dozen
All I can think of now is the blood
she lost from that attack.
She was lucky to be alive.
She was a student
in my freshman lit class,
and at first I sympathized
with her plight. She needed
extra time to type at the keyboard.
My mother’s funeral at Our Lady of Refuge
started with a jimmied lock, a break in.
John O’ Dwyer shot her, then me, then,
the gun barrel under his chin,
took his own life, twenty-three years ago.
I hovered between life and death.
Today, 1958, Jenna spoons a dollop
of stuffing on her plate and mashes it with a fork.
She’s my cousin Ethel’s girl.
A begonia suns on a fire escape.
Mint green walls hold our shadows.
My mother’s funeral started in a bar
off the Concourse. Glen Miller
on the juke, a man and a woman
slow danced to “At Last.”
Another night the man, short, stocky,
sporting a polka dot pocket handkerchief,
leaned and shook my hand.
NYPD but not in uniform, Johnny’s
a detective, Mother said.
Seated next to me, my wife, Grace,
blonde, obese. At this Easter table
five children see a tall man with a long
face, a carnation in his lapel.
Grace passes me a bowl of cranberries.
I slice turkey, sip beer from a tall glass.
Downhill a half mile, the Concourse
is quiet. Closed on Sundays,
the shoe outlet that was the Top Club:
Mother stepped from the Ladies.
At the bar O’ Dwyer asked,
Can I buy you a drink?
I sat way up in the balcony.
In the spotlight on stage,
a slim twenty something:
confident in his hands,
his eyes roving the orchestra,
the tiered balcony,
Richard Pryor cracking jokes rapid fire:
mimicry, insane laughter
rising like a wave, carrying us,
he was there, the one, the me-ness
of pay-attention, effortless,
vivid. The short Afro, thin tie,
hands going to the tie knot. Then,
spin the time dial ahead
forty years: his darkness,
his wheelchair, head tilted
sideways, eyes staring
where no one else was looking,
a wheelchair’s blanket over
his legs. Are you cold?
The eleven roses and the twelfth is you
checks in the sport coat of Pinky Lee,
of high feelings
in the evangelist’s pompadour,
we were ornate
as a Faberge egg under glass,
happy as perch in the Hook River.
gum balls, Caladryl
cured our ills.
Whether water skiing
or nursing a scotch & milk, all of us
kept Hoover’s Masters of Deceit
for bedtime reading.
It was mind boggling.
said Pete the grocer.
We shot marbles.
We emulated mobster Frank Costello,
desired Knots Landing’s
“the penny candy store beyond the el.”
white port and lemon juice
and found eggs in a robins’ nest.
Peter Mladinic’s poems have recently appeared in Neologism, the Mark, the Magnolia Review, Home Planet News, Ariel Chart and other online journals. He lives, with six dogs, in Hobbs, New Mexico.