Sparrows Fly Home by Al Ortolani

Anna from Morning Glory handed out
pamphlets on birth control in her mini-skirt.
She was crowned the Anti-Queen
at Cornstalk. She turned a light on
in the art department when she tied
ribbons to sparrows, and released them
from a third story window, an act
both artistic and cruel. We climbed
a campus elm, sharing apples, nibbling
through sweetness to their arsenic seed.

I was falling in love. She was trying
not to fall from the tree. I gave her
my signed copy of Howl. She said, far out.
Each spring during the Military Ball,
freaks held a Peace Ball. Street people
lined the sidewalk, bumming spare change.
Anna, soaked in patchouli, gave out handfuls.
A contingent from the Cleveland Street house
smoked a box of catnip in a basement bedroom.
Anna shook her long hair over her face, meowed,
arched her back. We claimed catnip a bust,
but spent the evening playing with balls of yarn.
Anna moved back to St. Louis with a business degree.
I only saw her once after graduation. We shared
a bottle of wine the night John Lennon died.
She touched my hand, said she’d forgotten
how hard it was for birds to fly.

Al Ortolani’s newest collection, Paper Birds Don’t Fly, was released in 2016 from New York Quarterly Books. His poetry and reviews have appeared in journals such as Rattle, Prairie Schooner, New Letters, and the New York Quarterly. His poems been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Currently, he teaches English in the Kansas City area.

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