No - Al Ortolani

The grandbaby is coming over today.
For the next eight hours, my wife
and I will take turns holding him
on the couch, tilting his formula bottle
into his mouth, patting his back
for the burp he can’t manage. Today
is all one Yes. It is understood in
attention to bottle warmth, a sleep sack,
a monitor clenched to the crib.
Baby proofing the house will come later
after he’s turned over, struggled
to his hands and knees, crawled
across the floor towards electrical outlets,
the cabinet below the sink. Wherever
there is danger, he will hear the word No
banging across his life
like a drum, a claxon, an electric fence.
No will require repetition, a firm
presence of adult mind. It will take time,
probably the rest of his life to accept,
stopping him from a falling,
from touching the stove, from tasting
pills in the medicine bottle. He will
learn No as a reminder that bones
can break, that breathing is temporary,
that sometimes hurt cannot be fixed.

Al Ortolani’s poetry has appeared in journals such as Rattle, Prairie Schooner, and New Letters. His most recent collections, On the Chicopee Spur, was released from New York Quarterly Books in 2018 and Swimming Shelter:100 Poems in 100 Days from Spartan Press in December of 2020.  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. Currently, as a retired teacher, he lives in the Kansas City area, subsisting on Chinese carry-out with his wife Sherri and their rescue dog Stanley.