Words Worth: Al Ortolani
Poet Al Ortolani is the co-editor of The Little Balkans Review. His forthcoming book of poems will be published by Woodley Press at Washburn University.
The Poet Stranded in West Texas
Odd blue lizards and a goosey wind
rattle through the greasewood.
The poet whose car has died on a back road to Santa Fe,
unnerved by the remoteness of the water tank,
examines the towns he has circled
on his map of the panhandle. The more he studies
the more they begin to look like constellations.
In the rearview mirror, it reads
“All truths are closer than they appear.”
Among an ancestral people, he imagines
he would have been the one
called upon to put names to the unknown,
to find in the indifference of stars
a message above the mesa.
he needs to rebuild the carburetor with the tools at hand:
a roll of duct tape, a library card and an audio book
on the taming of the American West.
Dropping the Old Elm
The sawyer spots the fall
the way you’d lick your thumb
and then smear spit
on your forehead. This place
and he nods towards the lawn
between two outbuildings
is where she’ll topple. He
slips a silver dollar from
his baggy jeans and marks
the fall, lays it on the grass
like a wager. It’s all
in the angle of the notch
carved into the trunk, horizontal
as a question, and then a rip downwards
in a rough forty-five, so the two cuts
join like an answer.
If there’s no limbs or high
wires or sudden whimsy of wind
to mar the trajectory,
she’ll drop, forty years of swaying,
second guessing onto the dollar.
The Crow and the Cloud
In the deep silence before storm
a hiker leans on a wooden staff.
melt into his rag wool
the way a crow cawing in cloud cover
melts into sycamores
There is a doe in the honeysuckle
and within the body of the doe
is a woman from his past.
She stares at him through brown eyes.
He knows this because of the way
she bolts into the darkness of the evergreens
and in the way his eyes linger
on the canopy of branches
and in the way the crow follows.
Recipe for Change
Evening shadows are her dinner guests.
They fill her chairs, tucking their proper
Shoes below the table. Their appetites
Demand the simple, but tonight
She plans an exotic fare of poached chicken, garlic
And lemon rind, simmered over peppered rice.
Her mother taught her to cook, to fold napkins
And to serve from the right. Her father
Gave a swift and sober grace. Now,
Weary of recipes that appeal to the departed,
She removes their untouched plates,
Pushes them onto a shelf behind the canning jars,
And in a sauce pan, melts the silverware
Into coins for their eyes.