Al Ortolani: “Saturday at the Pawn Shop”


The shop owner’s heart condition

stops him in the middle of the aisle

back behind the glass counter of pawned

wedding rings and petite tennis bracelets.

He holds himself, hands out for balance,

head swimming in some kind of cloud

of sale and resale, pawn slips, overdue

notices, promises to come back soon.

It’s all I have worth something,

this diamond, this handgun;

I thought better to sell, than not eat.

The spell passes and he lowers his arms,

breathes again. Last time he fell,

crashed behind the counter, the EMTs

had to move the glass case, shake up

the rows of hope, the lineup of rings

and Lugers. Better to fall here among

the power tools, the abandoned drills,

the orbital sanders, the heap of tightly

wound electrical cords, better the air

compressors and the chop saws

than the jewelry, the wall of guitars,

the Gibsons, the Fenders, the Martins

that never learned to play themselves.

Al Ortolani’s poetry and reviews have appeared in journals such as Rattle, Prairie Schooner, and New Letters. He has published seven books of poetry. His newest collection, Paper Birds Don’t Fly, was released in 2016 from New York Quarterly Books. He co-authored, Ghost Sign—with Melissa Fite Johnson, Adam Jameson, and J.T. Knoll—which was just released by Spartan Press.

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