an on-line poetry magazine
for the 21st century
GRADUATION PHOTO 1949
I know the town, this grade school
where the 6th grade class poses in three lines,
a teacher and the principal on each wing.
One boy wears a sport’s jacket, his top
shirt button fastened at his throat.
He stands next to the teacher, a pet maybe.
No one smiles, although a couple of the boys
seated cross-legged in the front row, sport
the edge of a smirk, their lips turned up,
and held secretly for the camera. Mostly,
I’m taken by the poverty in their eyes,
like a row of closed windows.
I know enough of this town to recognize
the neighborhood, home to disheveled
hand-me-downs, thin socks on skinny ankles.
Some of the girls have ribbons in their hair.
It is a brave show. Not a single student looks
beyond the camera at the playground
they’re soon to leave. Next year they will
walk the extra blocks to the junior high,
across Broadway and down the hill
on Adams Street. Their shoes will shine
from the morning dew, ragged short-cuts
across the railroad tracks,
past the large homes, garden lawns, birdbaths
splashed with birds they don’t recognize.
Al Ortolani is the Manuscript Editor for Woodley Press in Topeka, Kansas, and has directed a memoir writing project for Vietnam veterans across Kansas in association with the Library of Congress and Humanities Kansas. He is a 2019 recipient of the Rattle Chapbook Series Award for Hansel and Gretel Get the Word on the Street. As a retired teacher, he lives in the Kansas City area with his wife Sherri and their rescue dog Stanley.