Armadillos Sought for Leprosy Studies by Al Ortolani

Armadillos Sought for Leprosy Studies

The armadillo crosses rivers by expelling
the oxygen from its lungs, then sinking,
walks below the surface on the riverbed.
If the river is too wide, often the case,

it drowns, and is eventually swept
to the shallows where it bobs in body gas,
bleaches like a Clorox bottle, the buoy
of a jugline. Armadillos are migrants

with few skills beyond eating insects.
They are neither turtle, nor rabbit.
They leap into the air when scared, spread
their short legs, hiss. They can wander

into a campfire’s light and stand confused,
as if transfixed by their pointed noses.
Some are made into handbags, or taxidermic
baskets. At a farm auction, I got into

a bidding war with an old woman over
the only armadillo at the sale. As a teacher,
I used it in my classroom for holding
dry erase markers. Contrary to the chili

cook’s joke, they seldom end up in the pot
although ‘begrudged as Hoover Hogs’ in the 30s.
They are killed by rivers, but mostly by trucks
on state highways. We count their dead

as we drive through Texas. It would become
a game if we weren’t sensitive liberals,
woke to the small brain, the leathery shell,
the leprosy of the folks Jesus knew.

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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. He has been a Kansas Notable Book recipient in 2017 and 2021. His poetry has appeared in Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry and in Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. His poems have appeared in Rattle, The New York Quarter, the Chiron Review, and others.