August 29, 2012

Al Ortolani

Crows on a Line

I stepped out of Stella's Two Step                        
on Highway K.  It was                
mid-afternoon, and the north
wind blew steady, blew cold.   
A George Jones tune hung                 
in the doorway like the shadow                    
of an old coat.  I unwrapped
a cigar and slid it
between my lips, realizing
as the music dimmed
and the pasture bled
colorless into November

that I had become all that                  
I was ever meant to be.          
Even the crows 
on a line above the road

cawed monotonously
over the same gray fescue
as yesterday. School children
passed in a yellow bus;

blank faces pasted
in the windows, crows
joining crows.

Crayon Shrapnel

Blood smeared the nostrils
of Bobby's nose and fell like a
Fu Manchu down the corners
of his chin.  His face was

clenched in rage, small fists
pounding the wooden desk
­into a vibrating plane, pencils
and crayons bounced in a sort
of colloidal suspension, neither
on or off of the desk, but floating
somewhere in between.
A crayon popped into his lap,

­he stopped pounding and chucked
­it in the direction of my head.
I ducked and it flew into
the hallway, smacking Sister Mercy

on the side of her left tit. The color
made a sort of "spat"
and dropped to her feet.
She let go of White Dog's ear

and rotated like a tank turret.
Oh no, Bobby whined, dropping his
head to his desk, pencils, crayons
scattering like shrapnel.

I rubbed the blood from my knuckles,
snickering at his change in fortune.
White Dog jeered from the hallway, 
Bob-by Bob-by Bob-by.

Sister Mercy flapped her dark wings
across the empty classroom,
the voices of the children at recess
growing dim as when a cloud passes.


You explained sex pretty well,
Pop, but you never said
much about love.
You said, grab a leg boy,
when you and Andy pulled
calves. Birthing beasts seemed
second nature. Confusion lay
in blue eyes
and strands of red hair
drifting across a sunny face. 

You never told me I'd promise her
a thousand things I not only
couldn't do, but would never even
remember. You never explained
how empty a house can be
when all those undone promises
­get tossed from the front porch
like a shoebox of marbles.

Or that I'd follow her
through the night, and keep
circling her mother's house
like a childish moon, stumbling
­and slipping on the small glass
cat-eyes that were still
being emptied from her Pinto,
her purse, her pockets,
the folds of her clothes,
the creases of her hands,
the corners of her eyes.


Al Ortolani is a teacher in Kansas. His poetry has appeared in New York Quarterly, The Laurel Review, The English Journal and other fine places. His second book of poetry is Finding the Edge from Woodley Press at Washburn University. He is a co-editor of The Little Balkans Review.

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