Al Ortolani:
Two Poems

The Gift

The old man had this car jacked up in the back yard.
I have no idea where he got it, maybe payment
For some black market job with Uncle Frank.
It was a 1935 Dodge without wheels. One day
Out of nowhere he gave it to me.
He said do whatever.
I couldn’t believe my luck,
So I bought some jet-black paint and brushed it
Carefully under the trees. You really had to look
To see the marks. Then I went down to the junkyard
And worked out a deal with Tommy. I lugged home four wheels
And four bald white walls.
One morning the old man
Took a look at what I’d done, and decided that he
Needed the car after all.
So that was that.  But sometimes in the afternoon
When he was asleep after the nightshift,
Mom would help me push it
Out of the driveway into the street. Before supper,
She would follow me back in with a rake, smoothing the gravel
Over the tire tracks. 

Performing the High Wire

Before Easter a teacher sent you to the office
where the lady from the Children’s Fund
presented you with a brown package of clothes.

Walking back to the classroom, you hid
the embarrassment of carrying your
New Start in a meat wrapper. You learned early
that a joke at your own expense

put you in command of effacement. As class clown
you assumed a persona, the package like a chair
on the tip of your nose, tight roping an imaginary high wire
to your desk. You swayed above the eyes
of your classmates, teetering

like nothing mattered but the circus.

Al Ortolani is a secondary English teacher in the Kansas City area. His poetry has appeared in the New York Quarterly, The Laurel Review, The Midwest Quarterly, The English Journal and others. His next volume of poetry, Finding the Edge, is due for publication from Woodley Press at Washburn University this spring. Presently, he is a co-editor for The Little Balkans Review, a small regional journal in southeast Kansas.

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