Al Ortolani: “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.

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