We’re singing “Don’t Play the Game.”

Our choir director Tanner Wilkins looks

straight at me at our rehearsal

for Sunday service when somebody

who looks like my sister Judy will stand

in the baptismal font above the pulpit

so people in pews can see the person,

dunked by Pastor McCall, come up wet,

and, at the service’s end, stand while

the faithful form a line and one by one

shake the baptized person’s hand.

When that happened to me, earlier

that day I fell and scraped my hand,

playing tennis with Kayla, my and Judy’s

roommate.  The faithful shook my hand

and it hurt, but I had this glow, a halo

about me in my mind and in theirs. 

Pain, that night, was nothing.  I was saved.

Tonight Tanner looks daggers at me. 

We’re singing “Don’t Play the Game.”

Look at Kayla, I’m thinking, who’s not only

not in the choir but also not saved, though

she looks saved, like a PTA treasurer.

Behind her closed door she likes it

when Andy, her boyfriend, calls her names.

Her face flushes, her breaths quicken,

she told me.  She doesn’t tell all, but

who does?  Tanner has two daughters. 

Jimmie, the elder, I heard talk about

one night in George’s Beer Garden.

Three guys one table over from mine.

Jimmie this, Jimmie that.  I’m sure

it was Tanner’s daughter.  So, look at her,

look her in the eye.  Don’t play the game! 



Peter Mladinic


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. His poems have recently appeared in Mad Swirl, The Mark, Neologism Poetry Journal, Adelaide, 433, and Home Planet News.   He lives in Hobbs, New Mexico.





  1. Replies
    1. Thank you, Linda. I had fun writing it. I often end up writing gloom about death, but this one is on the light side.

  2. contains joy as well as art. don't get much together these days. fine work.

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