Two Poems by Peter Mladinic

The Day After the Day the Music Died

I have a diary entry about Buddy Holly,
Richie Valens and J.P. Richardson, aka
The Big Bopper. I remember the classroom’s
rickety wood floor. I’m keen on hardwood
floors but this floor lacked gloss. Still,
it’s what I recall best about that room,
where I learned about the plane crash
then went home and wrote about it.

Art Costello’s brother came in
one morning in boots, jeans, shirtless
with a crop of dark hair spilled down his
brow and in his hand a brown paper bag,
Art’s lunch, he handed to Sister John at
her desk up front. a long pole’s hook
opened and closed windows, we were
at basement level, the girl’s playground

east of where we sat. My diary is green,
diamond-pattered, with a dark blue spine,
a latch for a key lost years ago.
I can open it and find what I wrote that day.
I remember Sister’s face, Art’s
close-together features made him older
and worried. His brother came in shirtless
on a warm day. We were all startled.

It was quick, quiet, nobody said anything.
He was muscled but not overly so. His
hair spilled over like Richie Valens’ hair.
I’d seen Richie, Buddy and The Big Bopper
but only on TV. Clean-cut Buddy Holly
always wore a tie. Our wood floor
was uneven, a level below the playground.
Word of the crash went ‘round our room.

The Animals

They teach us to believe in ourselves,
kindness lessons.
A while back I was mean to a dog.
It started one Saturday afternoon.
About to leave my house I gave each dog
a biscuit shaped like a bone
but denied her.
Even though she’s dead 14 months
I still see the look in her eyes that day,
disbelief, sorrow. A Catahoula mix
not by nature affectionate.
Now I have a dog who slept at my side
many nights, then suddenly found
a big pillow in a room other than mine.
More comfortable there than with me,
he teaches me I’m alone,
an ongoing lesson, it’s okay being alone,
a lesson my mother used to teach
and, I assume, your mother taught you,
because she chose to.
Outside a pavilion balloons floated up
into the sky an hour after the service
for your mom.
I’m with animals and I’m alone.
I’m okay. But that Saturday I denied Lori,
the Catahoula, a treat I wasn’t.
I was anything but kind.
Days like that may come again.
I can’t predict the future. But I know
what my mom taught me and what I think
your mom taught. It’s continual.
Now they’re not here, our mothers,
the animals teach us.

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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