Dotted Line Dotted Line

Poetry Summer 2019    fiction    all issues


Cover Antoine Petitteville

Laura Apol
Easter Morning
& other poems

Taylor Dibble
A Masterpiece in Progress
& other poems

Julia Roth
Lessons From My Menstrual Cup
& other poems

Jamie Ross
Ceaseless Wind. The Drying Sheaves
& other poems

Nicole Yackley
Mea Culpa
& other poems

George Longenecker
I’m sentimental for the Paleolithic
& other poems

Taylor Gardner
Short Observations by Angels
& other poems

Greg Tuleja
No Thomas Hardy
& other poems

Joanne Monte
War Casualties
& other poems

Nathaniel Cairney
Potato Harvest
& other poems

Steven Dale Davison
Wordsmouth Harbor Founder
& other poems

Heather 'Byrd' Roberts
How I Named Her
& other poems

sunny ex
& other poems

Ashton Vaughn
Through the Valley of Mount Chimaera
& other poems

Linda Speckhals
& other poems

Lucy Griffith
Breathing Room
& other poems

Steven Valentine
& other poems

Emily Varvel
B is for Boys and G is for Guys
& other poems

Jhazalyn Prince
Priceless Body
& other poems

Marte Stuart
Generation Snowflake
& other poems

S.J. Enloe
Kale Soup
& other poems

Meghan Dunsmuir
Our Path
& other poems

Writer's Site

Heather ‘Byrd’ Roberts


To burn it like cedar
I request another dream
I need a forest fire
—James Blake

in the forge, i see mama pulling bada out of the flames. smoke folding into itself. bada’s irises now an extinguishable forest, noncombustible. tears evaporate from my curling lips, head unrests from mama’s chest. my body, once rubble, does not collapse. the limo driver masters rolling in reverse back to the only two-lotted gingerbread house in chatham. the sun sets in the east. it is not mourning. eyes remain shut. dwelling in the undecided but my bones know.

that poem should’ve started with us walking backwards into a funeral home, west on sixty-seventh. the waiting area on the left, the main office—right. our mouths unauthorizing this contract, suppressing all calls for second opinions, reneging the invitation to this internment, or service, or whatever the fuck we were being offered. we insist on another option to say goodbye where my twenty-two-year-old self does not witness bada’s body burning in chamber. never inhaling death at two thousand degrees fahrenheit.

in this poem, i settle for the bits that got pummeled into dust. a phoenix existing inside blue blown glass around my neck. an eighty-seven-year-old ribbon, grounded, i never saw incinerated. this would be the only memory i’d wear.


When walking, we needed three things: the silver walker, the worn black wheelchair, and the will to be mobile. Only eight or nine but I was willing to catch her if she fell. I was strong enough to walk behind as she glided her weighted left leg across the mustard yellow floor. Her muscles wouldn’t cooperate the way she wanted them to. Told the doctors to go to hell.

She lifted her left foot off the floor and slowly traveled down her Hyde Park condo hallway. It sounds like an easy task but the stroke took this privilege. Left her droopy and immobile and reverted to infant. Seventy-three years old, learning how to walk again.

They say doctors make the worst patients. We should add nurses to that list too.


I got my ears pierced

for the first time at eighteen. Sat in a chair

and allowed this stranger to bore holes in me,

willingly. Replaced the gaps with diamonds.

I was handed instructions for cleaning:

take a cotton swab twice a day, dip it in alcohol,

swirl it around the site. Twist often.

Terrified of Bada’s warnings,

I cleaned it. Made sure the skin

around the stud didn’t hold it hostage.

Form a forgotten memory. Become infected.

Hold an extra boulder where beauty

used to be. Our secrets, mostly keloids,

are from her. I dodged the majority of the knives

that carved my legs. Caught all of the words.

I tell myself she didn’t mean it.

I still bled. I healed. Still left a narrative behind.

Elegy for Breath

The only time a party erupted in my house

a balloon was born.

Bada’s voice crackled. Her smile,

slightly slanted to the left, teeth coated in

Marlboro and Folgers. Her breath mostly ether.

The clots stole the parts of her voice

that reminded us of Walgreen after bath splash.

But this day, a kaleidoscope of balloons

were blown. Tied with fingers not quite

old enough to stay up past ten. The colors

glided across the room cloaking

the brawl the walls carried.

She swat at the balloons with her right hand,

just like she did us after the stroke.

She rumbled from laughter.

This day, the roof of her mouth swallowed

every fuck you from the ceiling. Her breath


We giggled away gravity.

How I Named Her

I have known

babies’ tongues

to swallow English

and giggle.

The sounds

adults’ mouths

have forgotten

were prescribed.

My teeth,

barely breaking

through gums

dusted in formula,

swung past options

to baptize her.

At two,

my mouth

too infant,

crusted in apple sauce

pressed its lips

into drums.

I was too rebel

to carve Grandma

into the roof with tongue.

My native dialect,

coated in plantains,

exchanged Bibi for Bada.

Kiswahili for a new code.

Heather ‘Byrd’ Roberts is a Chicago-based poet, performer, teaching artist, and author of “Mahogany: A Love Letter To Black.” Her work focuses on the intersectionality between form and freedom. She uses her experiences to shed light on issues of privilege, love, and familial relationships as she unlocks the opportunity for invisible voices to be heard. Byrd will appear in CAGIBI’s journal in July. Her favorite words are balloon and bubble.

Dotted Line