THE SLEEP OF EMMETT KELLY
There’s a point after smashing peanuts
with a sledgehammer and sweeping
the spotlight into a dustpan,
when it’s enough to say enough
and sit with your clown shoes curled.
When you lean your head back
after the last show, your eyelids shut,
not with the click of the kewpie
the little girl carries, but slowly
as with weights attached, tugging
your lashes to your painted face.
It’s enough to sag with the hour of the day
in a sort of setting, not dying, or anything
so dramatic, but in repose, like the way
the limb of a large tree, an elm maybe,
exhales before the sun dips, the cicadas
erupting on cue and unrehearsed.
The air you breathe
is at once your own, and not your own,
and tomorrow will be, if not here,
then somewhere the same.
Al Ortolani’s poetry has appeared in journals such as Rattle, Prairie Schooner, and Tar River Poetry. His newest collection, On the Chicopee Spur, has just been released from New York Quarterly Books. Ortolani is the Manuscript Editor for Woodley Press in Topeka, Kansas, and directs a memoir writing project for Vietnam veterans across Kansas in association with the Library of Congress and Humanities Kansas.