Francis plays his invisible sax; Leo stomps
like a dervish. Wild onions swell in bulbs
at their feet. Each morning is balanced on
the cusp of wildness. All night the creaking
cold tumbles on the wind, the wolf
in the trees. When every coat is given away,
there are just the stones, the breath
freezing in scat. Melody teeters between
madness and vision, between blood and bone—
Francis flexes his fingers on the keys.
Already Gene Krupa’s crazy
drumsticks beat the skull. Each new day
is an improvisation—a jazz riff. One long jam
session with clarinets, toms, and horns. Unable
to leave her bed, Clare begins to hum
the tune. She breaks bread with the forest—
click of willow above the stream, snare
of fish at her feet, sparrows like quarter notes.
The stones of her cell pixelate in high definition,
the entire wall a flat screen. Francis
is with Leo on the bandstand. Clare drums
the mattress, watches from afar.
In 1958 Clare is named the patroness
of television. Ozzie and Harriet plan
Sunday dinner. Paladin hands out
business cards. Kookie Kookson
combs his hair on Sunset Strip.
Poor Clare, too sick to leave her cell,
watches the stones glow with excitement,
dried yarrow, juniper, stars above
the thatch, geese on the wind. A family
in Kansas City shares popcorn on the couch.
Ed Sullivan introduces Topo Gigio.
Al Ortolani’s poetry and reviews have appeared in journals such as Prairie Schooner, New Letters, Word Riot, and the New York Quarterly. He has four books of poetry: The Last Hippie of Camp 50 and Finding the Edge, published by Woodley Press at Washburn University; Wren’s House, published by Coal City Press in Lawrence, Kansas; and Cooking Chili on the Day of the Dead from Aldrich Press in Torrance, California. His fifth book, Waving Mustard in Surrender, will be released by New York Quarterly Books later in 2014. He is on the Board of Directors of the Kansas City Writers Place and is an editor with The Little Balkans Review.