two poems entitled
Poem instead of a Letter

by Peter Mladinic




Country Kitchen in Sayreville sits off I 50,
an isle of green cuts though four lanes
out the window. In 1970 I saw a dead horse
in such an isle only it was winter, Minnesota.
In Sayreville’s new Animal Wellness Center
an hour ago a lady and a guy took dogs
on blue, ribbon-thin, taut leashes through
a door: Princess, Mack and Midnight. Mack


the only one who went willingly, three dogs
I had named, counted on me. I’ve taken two
bites from the sausage patty on my plate
of biscuits and gravy. All I see is Midnight,
born from a moment a lab mounted a Saint
Bernard, or visa versa. You came to me
to be saved and I led you to death, turned
you over to the lady, and you looked at me.


Kathryn said, Marty, we have to be here,
we couldn’t stay where we were, better here
with the County funding. Yes, it’s climate
controlled. So was Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn
the day I took an oath, April, 1966, to serve
my country. My Princess, Mack, Midnight,
I took an oath and betrayed you, betrayed
myself. Kathryn was there. “We had to do it.”


Had to kill off three old ones so there’s room
for the others we brought here, to stay in
cages, with the others, the County dogs.
I’m director of Sayerville Pets in Need. Our
old place, when we had a hard rain, flooded.
Now, this new faculty, winter-warm,
summer-cool, dry. No electric bill to pay.
West Texas, we take care of stray animals.


(stanza break)


I can’t touch the biscuits. I’m thinking of
the dead horse I saw from a Greyhound
outside Mankato. Midnight looked right into
my eyes, not wanting to budge. He knew,
animals know. They can take these biscuits
and gravy to the dumpster out back, a stray
will find some that’s spilled over. A pickup
blows by on I 50, a black lab in its bed.


Should be law against that. I should be
with those three that were mine to keep
till we could adopt them out, they never had
any interest. Three old dogs. It’s as if I’d
stopped my pickup and Midnight ran up,
and I gave him food and water by the side
of the road, and in the cab, shifted into first
telling myself he lives on a nearby ranch.






Poem Instead of a Letter


Dara, whom I got Honey from, took her own
life. This morn I lay in bed with the thought
I’d leave my partner for another woman but
not if it meant our dogs going to a shelter.


I saw Honey at a Pet Sense adopt event.
I went home and said you’ve got to see this
Black lab/ Vizsla so shiny and black. Next
day at the shelter Honey playing with Liam,


a Pit pup, like there’s no tomorrow circles of
fun around cages, we put her in the car and
took her home. Dara adopted Liam.
Two months later we got them together.


It was like they didn’t remember each other,
outdoors, a different setting. Eventually
Dara got sick and wasn’t even thirty.
A husband, a son, a daughter mourned her.


She left everything. I could too for a new
woman. I’m unsure how she feels. I’m so
attracted I could leave all to be with her but
not if it meant my dogs going to a shelter.


I think of Dara, married to my friend, all he
dealt with, with Dara. Ironically he became,
in my eyes, more compassionate.
He was left a stepson, a young daughter.


(stanza break)


It’s been five years. Last summer the son,
a high school junior, went to live with his
biological dad, his choice. My friend has
Liam and another dog. We have Honey and


others I couldn’t care for alone. My partner
does a good job, she loves them. I don’t
think if I left she’d leave them. Things in time
decide themselves, no easy answers.