Cigar Box

Al Ortolani


Some cicadas take seventeen years
to emerge from below the sweet gum,
eggs on a delayed fuse, exploding
in a distant summer. Years ago, I found
an axe head in an Arkansas cave.
It took decades, judging
from the rust, before it was returned
to the light. I own a metal detector
that I thought could sweep up secrets
from city parks. One afternoon, I dug up
an Indian-head nickel, the date smoothed
and nearly unreadable. I imagine
it fell from the pocket of a boy
as he fisted a baseball card, or was juggled
by an old man before it flipped free
into the lawn. My grandson
found it again in the corner of a cigar box. 
The night he was born,
I brushed his cheek with my knuckle
as if in discovery.


Al Ortolani’s poetry has appeared in journals such as Rattle, Prairie Schooner, and Tar River Poetry. His latest collection, Paper Birds Don’t Fly, was released in 2016 from New York Quarterly Books. Ortolani is the Manuscript Editor for Woodley Press in Topeka and directs a memoir writing project for Vietnam veterans across Kansas, which is associated with the Library of Congress and with the Kansas Humanities Council.