Polio Turtle by Al Ortolani

It took ten cents to ride the bus uptown,
and then a penny to give the elevator boy
(although he was a man) to take us to the fourth
floor of the Professional Building. The doctor
charged $5 a visit, but he let mom pay it out
over time. She said that with seven kids
the doctor’s account was revolving. Afterwards,
we walked to Chubb’s where she bought
me a six cent Green River in a paper cone.
Not counting the doctor’s bill, Mom and I could spend
the day for 17 cents each. Lunch at Woolworth’s
was out of the question, so was the Five and Dime
unless I needed a shot or stitches. Then I could
choose from anything under 49 cents.
Polio closed the city pool that summer, and
the following fall all the school kids
were fed sugar cubes. I wondered
what an iron lung would earn me at Kress’s.
When my best friend got sick,
mom broke down and bought me a painted turtle.
He crawled on colored pebbles
below a plastic palm tree.

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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