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Al Ortolani

The Good Karma Stop Light


I’m thinking of St. Francis and the lepers

when this one legged panhandler

hops into the traffic. He holds


out his hand—I’m selling

good karma man. The light is red.

No way to kick


the gas pedal and skirt

the intersection. Sherri is Sister Clare

rolling down her window


digging through her purse.

She has a few twenties and a couple

of ones. I say give him a dollar.


The one legged man, balanced like

a pogo stick—the bus to good karma

costs more than a buck. She slips


a twenty through the window.

The light changes and I gas it

across Congress. In the rearview


the beggar bounces back

to his bus stop—the twenty

flapping like a prayer flag.



Storm Dharma


Crows attack the cottonwood,

whirling through the snow

like hatchets. The owl,


seldom seen, is stoic,

a target on a branch. When

he finally takes wing,


the crows turn murderous,

hysterical in challenge. They streak

beyond photography―


cawing through the trees

in the sideways snow.

Park roads, barricaded


with 2x10s, billow

in drifts. My grandson

tromps into a hardwood—


secreted with fox

and bobcat, the invisible roosts

of owls. Chasing the distant


voices of crows, he hoods

the camera lens with his hand—

the old trees creaking, woody


vines clacking. The owl

is a boot print

filling with snow.



Al Ortolani has been a public school teacher in Kansas for the past 39 years. As a boy, he dreamed of being a second baseman for the New York Yankees. However, when they didn't call, he began writing poetry.  He has three books of poetry, The Last Hippie of Camp 50 and Finding the Edge, published by Woodley Press and Wren's House, published by Coal City Press. He is an editor for The Little Balkans Review and works closely with the Kansas City Writer's Place.