Al Ortolani, Altar Bells

Al Ortolani
ALTAR BELLS

A woman begs bus fare―
her cardboard placard creased
and stained. The penniless Juniper

asks her to wait while he ducks
into the church. He returns
with bells in a paper bag.

Silver is better pawned, he tells her.
The police usher Juniper
into the station where he

confesses eventually, seeming
to enjoy the good cop,
bad cop. The sergeant shouts

until his voice cracks. Later
that night, Juniper wakes the cop

at his home, flashlight in hand,
soup steaming in a plastic bowl.
Your voice box is injured

from yelling, he says.
This soup, my mother’s
recipe, will calm

the wolf in your throat.
The sergeant is furious.
Do you know what time it is?

To which Juniper replies—
if you’re not interested,
then at least hold my light

so I can eat. The sergeant
rubs his hand through his hair,
letting the door swing open―

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5 thoughts on “Al Ortolani, Altar Bells

    • Is stealing from a church to help someone begging for bus fare unkind? It may involve some contorted logic, but I suspect the intention would still be considered “kindness”.

  1. I’m such a cynical reader that this makes me want to see a lot more of Juniper (just so I can figure him out a little better). I’m very taken with the mix of impulsive helpfulness and practicality.

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