Al Ortolani’s poetry and reviews have appeared in journals such as Prairie Schooner, New Letters, Word Riot, and the New York Quarterly. He has four books of poetry, The Last Hippie of Camp 50 and Finding the Edge, published by Woodley Press at Washburn University, Wren’s House, published by Coal City Press in Lawrence, Kansas, and Cooking Chili on the Day of the Dead from Aldrich Press in Torrance, California. His fifth book, Waving Mustard in Surrender, will be released by New York Quarterly Books later in 2014. He is on the Board of Directors of the Kansas City Writers Place and is an editor with The Little Balkans Review.
Francis Kisses a Leper
—after “Dios” by Cesar Vallejo
God is the orphan of the universe—
a white flower in a water glass.
Sister Moon, who rings the leper’s
bell today? Who is the afternoon orphan?
I carry a kiss below the viaduct
into the camps of the homeless.
I adopt their joy and sorrow.
I jump rope with their children
in blue, hand-me-down shoes.
God carries a cardboard sign. Sometimes
he buys himself muscatel, sometimes
Happy Meals for his kids.
Brother Giles Beats the Walnuts
Already the poor are coming, they push
shopping carts and sling plastic bags
across their shoulders. Those with addresses
have food stamps, those without drag
cardboard boxes and scraps of blue tarp.
Beyond the trees, crows dot the cornfields.
Giles weaves baskets and trades them
to farmers for corn. Among the crows,
there is no concept of justice. Their wings
dot the fields. They eat everything they can,
pecking their way from fence to fence.
Giles wraps walnuts in his cloak.
He hands them out to the poor on the road
who flock like sparrows to his hand.
They lift him by his shoulders and fly
deep into the forest to another
grove of trees—where the walnuts
grow high and out of reach.
Before His Calling, St. Francis Had Six-Pack Abs
Francis buys a leather jacket, one that fits
like soft denim, but in a brown lamb or calfskin.
It takes away all of his worries. As a new man,
he faces the changing seasons with confidence
and aplomb. He nurses a drink
while leaning on a bar rail, and lovely women
wonder what he ordered. Their husbands
study wardrobe, tug at their jacket sleeves.
His girl believes she is the most desirable
woman in the bar. She places her hand on his arm
where it remains for the entire evening.
He never takes the jacket off, except to shower.
It hangs on the hook for the towel.
He uses scented soap, probably Polo Black,
and medicated shampoo that reduces dandruff.
Each time he steps in front of the mirror—there’s
the low BMI, the cut pectorals, the six-pack abs.
On the street, strangers
ask him for Brad Pitt’s autograph.