Knives on a Table
Knives on a Table
Knives on a Table
A richly varied collection of 62 poems by Peter Mladinic
Cover art by Paul Klee
6” x 9” 99 pages
“I have been an admirer of Peter Mladinic’s poetry for forty years. The narrative elements appeal to me, and many of these poems are inherently dramatic. But what excites me even more is his beguiling language and imagery, the unpredictable nature of his fertile, mysterious imagination. This rich collection represents a first-rate poet at his absolute best. What a beautiful book.”
— Steve Yarbrough, author of The Unmade World, winner of the 2019 Massachusetts Book Award for Fiction.
“The title says it all. This is a book of poems by a poet who is a skilled storyteller, but where the poet takes us in the poetry of this book is not necessarily where we expected to go. Knives and tables are commonplace facts of daily life and Mladinic takes us into the lives of ordinary people who become extraordinary in moments and happenings. Just as knives on a table are rife with metaphor and edgy multi-connotations, so too are the narratives Mladnic has crafted into the fine poems of this substantial volume.”
— Glen Sorestad, Poet Laureate of Saskatchewan 2000-2004, and author of over twenty volumes of poetry.
“In this richly varied collection, Peter Mladinic’s myriad voices reveal his extraordinary gift for lyric storytelling. The speakers in his fresh and unexpected dramatic monologues populate a universe of recognizably American experience, telling of joys and horrors, childhood memories, murders committed, lovers desired and lost, lives fractured, heartbreak endured and survived (or not). An always believable surrealism of the everyday sometimes takes us into the dream life of families, births and deaths, moments full of illumination and love, sorrow and exhilaration. Mladinic’s poems are all about the inescapable reality of others whom he fully imagines in all their unforgettable poignance and irrepressible vitality. His disciplined, energetic, highly pressured free verse and brilliant attention to local detail celebrate life — its tragedy, its comedy, its romance and abundance — all the while taking into account, with the deepest compassion, the relentless passage of time.”
— Elizabeth Frank, Pulitzer Prize winner in 1986 for her biography Louise Bogan: A Portrait.
Peter Mladinic lives in Hobbs, New Mexico. He was born and raised in New Jersey and has lived in the Midwest and in the South. He enlisted in the United States Navy and served for four years. He received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arkansas in 1985, and taught English for thirty years at New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs. He has edited two books: Love, Death, and the Plains; and Ethnic Lea: Southeast New Mexico Stories, which are available from the Lea County Museum Press, as are his three volumes of poetry: Lost in Lea, Dressed for Winter, and his most recent book, co-authored with Charles Behlen, Falling Awake in Lovington. He is a past board member of the Lea County Museum and a former president of the Lea County Humane Society. An animal activist, he supports numerous animal rescue groups. Two of his main concerns are to bring an end to the euthanizing of animals in shelters and to help get animals in shelters adopted into caring homes. In his spare time, he enjoys yoga, listening to music, reading, and spending time with his six dogs. Recently, his poems have been published in numerous online journals in the US, Canada, England, Ireland, and Australia.
Knives on a Table sample poems
Loom over this skyscraper city.
Lift a building two feet off the ground
as if it were a box of books,
as if it were a cage of singing birds.
The frozen food aisle, how arctic pole
in atmosphere it seems in summer.
The funeral home, the lingerie department.
What café waits to be opened,
what lights to be turned off
as sun envelops the city?
Shops sell diamonds, but not to anyone
you know. Sluggish this morning,
slouched by a window in a bus,
get behind the wheel. After that,
lift the hospital, your destination,
and carry it in one hand, as if
carrying the morning news
across the lawn and into the house
where two people you love are sleeping.
What next? Switch from you to I:
My stomach could feel better,
and then write the biography
of a famous magician, a woman
up the street who left her house
one morning and was never seen
again. You’ve been weaving potholders
when all you need is a list
of people you’d like to kiss on the lips.
A list of moonlighters, and garment
workers on strike. A list of snorkels.
But are you gathering city details:
the city hills, the city clocks?
I am sipping coffee. A sign
on the wall in the pizza parlor
said someone wants toy trains.
Who could that be? The man who
gave your father an MRI
at the hospital? Your father
sat beside you on the bus.
You rode with him to the hospital.
The hospital you lifted and carried
to the river. When you turned
it upside down, shards of suffering,
like diamonds, spilled into the river.
Among Women Only
No pretty girl will come and ask to sit at my table.
No gazelle will walk back and forth across the room,
no madonna with little crosses in her sharp black eyes.
This is a world without women. Nothing feminine
touches this floor which is cold and made of stone.
No finely shaped hand opens this door which is steel.
We men talk among ourselves. Here there are boxes
and bells to tell us when to stop and when to begin.
Sometimes I go off by myself. I go down the dock
and inside the freezer a woman dances before my mind.
I see her auburn hair, her large brown eyes, fair skin.
I hear her. She tells me she has a son with my name,
and walks from table to table in the little restaurant.
She asks what I am writing. I say you, Gail, are all
I am writing. Her son and husband have no place here.
I am on a forklift moving pallets of roast beef eyes.
No fragrance, no faces like wheatfields, only frost
on boxes and voices over a loudspeaker and beef smells
inside truck carts after the trucks have been emptied.
Blocks away women with big hair, backbone, and style
mingle in the lives of other women, other men. Here
on the dock hangs a grill that kills flies and bugs
to keep them away from the meat. And in the cooler
men dressed for winter and loneliness hustle and thrive.
The Vietnamese barber cut my hair.
Then he took a long needle with a wooden handle
and eased it into one ear and then the other.
With all the wax gone my head felt lighter.
I could have been killed by the singing of a bird.