As a boy we had a dog die
about once a year. They ran loose,
each morning leaving the house,
returning at night from wherever
the neighborhood pack took them.
We knew each member of the pack by name,
by their owner’s names,
by their speed, their thievery, their bark.
They chased cars on the county road,
and ate the poisoned meat
the farmers set out for rats.
Dogs were free. By that, I mean
we never paid for a puppy.
They came to us tumble deep
in cardboard boxes. Someone
always had a dog to give away.
A “Free” sign, once painted, was kept
in the garage next to the scrap lumber.
Mother handed me a shovel and the car keys.
She said, go before the others get home.
I used a towel, rubbery with Shinola.
I sunk the spade like my father did,
used my weight to lift the earth.
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.