AL ORTOLANI


Al Ortolani is the Manuscript Editor for Woodley Press in Topeka, Kansas (USA),
and has directed a memoir writing project for Vietnam veterans across Kansas in
association with the Library of Congress and Humanities Kansas. His poetry has
appeared in journals such as Rattle, Prairie Schooner, The New York Quarterly.
His most recent collection of poems, Swimming Shelter, was chosen as a Kansas
Notable Book.






Cataract Love Poem

I help you tape
a plastic shield
over your eye.
We make sure the ad-
hesive is smooth
against the
sensitive parts
of your face,
forehead, nose,
a slice of cheek,
no more. Sleep
will not come
easily as it is.
The thought of
surgery still
foreign to us,
a subject for
our parents
in the kitchen:
broken hips,
stroke and gout.
All the cells in
your body are re-
placed, made new
every seven
years. You are
young. Tomorrow
you will see.






Brothers

We live in a truck
that hasn't been seized
by the bank. Dad
keeps it hidden under
the name of his brother.
We sleep on mattresses
made from cushions of
couches. We cook on
a Coleman, picked up
at a garage sale, and
eat cross-legged out
of cans. My brother
tapes up photographs
from Sports Illustrated
of Eli and Peyton Manning,
brothers like us. I keep
a photo of mom, her
two boys beside her on Christmas
morning. She sips
coffee and has a bow
on her head. Three mattresses
litter the truck floor.
As soon as the weather
warms, we drive
north for work on
the pipeline. Dad tapes
nothing above his mattress.
He worries about where
to park the truck,
someplace without
police or bums, someplace
with a little light.






Digging Up the Septic Tank

Repairing the septic tank
in summer heat
is serious work for an old man;
his neighbors shout
from air conditioned Fords
that he's crazy to be out in this.
Waving his iced tea,
he takes a cut of bailing wire
and sinks it to find soft soil;
several times he clips the spool,
narrowing a circle until he strikes
the top of the tank.
He rings the perimeter
between virgin rock and turned soil
with wire spears; he squares
a folding chair
next to the garden. With a spade
and a sharp shooter,
kept oiled in the barn, he parcels
the repair down to concrete and tar.
His eyes rest on prize
tomatoes, rooted into the
lateral�s current, untouched
by drought.






Michael Hogard's Wake

The happy hour from Chubb's Bar
kneels shoulder to shoulder: dominoes

with bare fists, stiff shoes, and spiked
pocket hankies. Rosary beads

rattle against the pew like knuckles.
The prayers, memorized at St. Mary's,

have grown unfamiliar. They recite them
as slurs of inarticulate vowels,

growled RRRs, and sputtered Ts. Sister Anna
still watches, frowning as their

butts find the pew like a barstool,
a first sign of the devil's sloth, and then

the second back at Chubb's, when Tom Burns
twirls his finger for another round.



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