Al Ortolani’s poetry and reviews have appeared in journals such as Prairie Schooner, New Letters, Word Riot, andthe New York Quarterly. His fifth collection of poems, Waving Mustard in Surrender, was released in 2014 from New York Quarterly Books. Currently, he is teaching English in the Blue Valley School District and serves on the Board of Directors of the Kansas City Writers Place. Al and his wife Sherri recently returned from Ireland where they fell in love with the entire country.
Driving down 39th Street in a winter rain, the stop lights, red, the river of taillights, red, the evening sky, charcoal. The rush hour traffic stops and starts bumper to bumper. All windows are rolled tight except for one cracked an inch, cigarette smoke disappearing in the rain. Foot by foot they inch toward the intersection. Each driver alone, huddled with his thoughts, searching ahead for a break in the traffic, the road that leads home.
ice on wrought iron,
a window fogged with chicken
boiling into soup
My Irish Mother
The room is chilled by damp wind, blowing out of the north, gray with massing cloud. I huddle over the computer screen. In a town one hundred miles away, my mother is fading. Strokes and dementia have forced her from wheelchair to bed. She no longer speaks a language I recognize. She suffers nightmare visions with morphine interludes, a chemical cocktail in her brain.
over photographs, weathered
slips of grandchildren
Yesterday, she sang in what sounded like Gaelic, an old woman’s nonsensical word salad, a slow, ironic tone, her family crowded in the peat smoke somewhere hardscrabble, her blue eyes closed in an antique tune. What visitor emerges from her DNA—sister in woolen stockings, cousin in flannel coat? What words reach her husband who has gone ahead into the long night? She licks her lips. She rolls her head.
crow breaking seeds
on the ice house wall,
the scattering wind
When I was a boy, she painted the moon on my bedroom wall, a smiling cow in midflight leaping through a yellow crescent. She told me nothing was ever as bad as it could be, and that a dish could run away with a spoon.
Even after all these years of taking Paxil, anxiety leers at me from behind a potted plant. There are days when I can feel it spitting from a can of Pledge, crouching below the bed like a hairball, or seeping like a water stain under a philodendron. I keep it at bay as best I know—clean house, clean mind. But it creeps in with the cat, with the open door, with leaves in the wind.
rolling up the Welcome in my doormat
Box of Rags
The rake has been leaning against the fence. The corners of the yard heavy with leaf fall, windblown newsprint, paper cups, gift wrap. Six squirrels run through the neighbor’s trees. I count their shadows, at times indistinguishable, merging, separating, leaping into sunlight. If today were the last day of my life, I wouldn’t do anything more, except put on my jacket and open the window.
another pot pie peasandcarrotsandsomethingelse