Dotted Line Dotted Line

Poetry Winter 2013    fiction    all issues


Alysse Kathleen McCanna
& other poems

Peter Nash
Shooting Star
& other poems

Katherine Smith
House of Cards
& other poems

David Sloan
On the Rocks
& other poems

Alexandra Smyth
Exoskeleton Blues
& other poems

John Glowney
The Bus Stop Outside Ajax Bail Bonds
& other poems

Andrea Jurjević O’Rourke
It Was a Large Wardrobe...
& other poems

Lisa DeSiro
Babel Tree
& other poems

Michael Fleming
& other poems

Michael Berkowitz
As regards the tattoo on your wrist
& other poems

Michael Brokos
Landscape without Rest
& other poems

Michael H. Lythgoe
Orpheus In Asheville
& other poems

John Wentworth
morning people
& other poems

Christopher Jelley
Double Exposure
& other poems

Catherine Dierker
dinner party
& other poems

William Doreski
Hate the Sinner, Not the Sin
& other poems

Robert Barasch
& other poems

Rande Mack
& other poems

Susan Marie Powers
Red Bird
& other poems

Anne Graue
& other poems

Mariah Blankenship
Tub Restoration
& other poems

Paul R. Davis
& other poems

Philip Jackey
Garage drinking after 1989
& other poems

Karen Hoy
A Naturalist in New York
& other poems

Gary Sokolow
Underworld Goddess
& other poems

Michal Mechlovitz
The Early
& other poems

Henry Graziano
Last Apple
& other poems

Stephanie L. Harper
& other poems

Roger Desy
& other poems

R. G. Evans
& other poems

Frederick L. Shiels
Driving Past the Oliver House
& other poems

Richard Sime
Berry Eater
& other poems

Jennifer Popoli
Generations in a wine dark sea
& other poems

Winner of $100 for 3rd-place-voted Poems

Katherine Smith

House of Cards

January 1871

When I was in Richmond I met a man.

I touched pulp where a sword had pierced his eye,

dressed the bloody bruise of his crushed thigh

where hooves trampled his femur and pelvis. I caressed

his fragile parts to health until his hard mouth broke

into a smile. I dream now that he commands me

to escape my father and brothers, run back

to Richmond. But before he left the hospital

for the battlefield where he died he asked me

to marry him and I refused. I don’t regret it.

I’ve learned too much belief in any man,

even a good one, can drive a woman mad.

The night when I dreamed he lay on me

and I screamed so loud I woke with Daddy

and the boys standing over my bed,

I told them it was nothing.

It’s hard to be the only woman

in a house full of men. I wept last night,

and when I opened my eyes the stars

were beginning to fade in the dawn light.

Come spring when the quince is red as passion,

I’m determined to set out on that train,

seeking nothing. I’ll never marry. For now

the quince orchard lies buried under snow

and a crust of ice thickens on the river.

I’m done looking for portents in voices,

tea leaves, dreams. I believe in the cold, real

and sharp. When I walk this morning to the coop

the hens make the soft clucking sounds

that comfort me The rooster puts his beak

under his wing and goes back to sleep.

I steal from each hen a warm brown egg

and follow my footprints in the snow

back to the house. The weight of my family

settles on me like a shawl crocheted of iron.

I head to the kitchen to boil coffee.

Daddy and the boys will say it’s too bitter.

When they come in from milking the cows,

drop the load of firewood for the stove

they labor to keep burning all winter,

I’ll add cream to theirs and drink mine black.


Spring 1870

Mother didn’t like for me to climb the mountain,

warned me of black bears, ghosts. Now she’s gone

I wouldn’t mind meeting either just to know

I wasn’t alone. Beneath my wool skirts my legs warm.

Quince perfumes the air, crimson, sharp as pepper.

The gnarled apple trees grow delicate curls,

white petals like my baby brother’s fine blond hair.

The wind chases clouds over the mountains.

I can’t imagine a world without me or the mountains.

Some folks might call it selfish, but what has come

to pass is so different from what I thought

I don’t mind what folks call me. There is in me

a flame, a fire I used to be ashamed of,

that keeps my mind from wandering

at the creek where the path doglegs right

into valley ruins, a melancholy patchwork

quilted by women’s hands and passed down

to daughters. On her death bed my mother’s

barbed look snagged me as if she knew I’d turn

from memory like a man towards reason,

run away from what was certain as the home

that once held me fast, beloved as Priest mountain.


September 1870

My father helps to gather apples, little gnarled

things that’ll last all winter baked into pie.

While summer lingers I stew them with rhubarb,

ladle into a white bowl, covered with cream,

the summer fruit that slides down the dark throats

of brothers raw with weeping. For six months

the frogs’ croak from the river winds up

and stops, a toy that topples instead of spinning.

Daddy repeats time to plant, time to harvest

and his words fall short of meaning as if

something were chipped or missing at the bottom

of him that sets thought gyrating into the world.

The men and boys won’t stop looking

as if they were waiting for a miracle

but all I can do is boil the clothes with lye,

wash the dusty floors, put food on the table.

I skip church on Sundays when other girls float

in taffeta to church on Norwood road.

Through crepe myrtle’s blazing branches, I watch,

and bite a tongue of iron. When I feed the pigs

I slap the sow so hard with the rusty pail

that she no longer comes running for slops,

squints at me with knowing eyes. I don’t have it

in me to believe a thing except the secret

of silver I saved nursing soldiers in Richmond.

Next spring I’ll lay ten coins on the palm of the man

at the train depot with the tin roof that flashes

in the sun between the river and the church,

run away to nurse again in Richmond, instead

of a heart lay the rest on the kitchen table.


Richmond 1880

I was just a girl, could never hope

to make the sun rise and set by milking cows

My body wouldn’t chant the silent prayer

of broom-work and feather duster. There was

a hardness in me better suited to dressing wounds

or stopping the flow of gushing blood and pus

than to mopping floors. Years after I ran off

I knew myself flawed as if by making me God

had left a chink of doubt for men to slip

through to nothingness. Twice, though I knew

it meant wearing the men’s rage till death

like shame at the flesh that cloaked me,

I almost went back and didn’t. I went to work

in hospitals nursing the sick to whom I didn’t belong.

I still wonder at night what happened to my kin,

but wear my concern lightly as a crust of thin ice

that melts in the April sun. Sometimes I think

with what I’ve understood I could have borne

to stay except I’ve learned that mother love

left behind that day the train pulled away

from dwindling mountains isn’t enough

to keep anyone at home.

Red Sea

It was just me and the bleak world

of scrub pine, red clay, rattling husks

of dead sumac. It was just me

and the massive earth and the stone house

no one had lived in for a long time. My life

a fact, without illumination. I followed

the yellow dog up the overgrown path

to where the bare Virginia mountain

crouched under the grey sky,

turned to walk the three miles home

down the same road I’d come.

The Blue Ridge turned red, then

a pale yellow without the usual

crescendo of dusk. I heard a laughter

like the bones of winter sun.

My daughter had been gone months,

her childhood like a sea

that had parted

and swallowed up half my life.

What was I doing alone

on this mountain? The grey sky

let go of snow as if releasing letters,

an alphabet of wordless understanding

that fluttered through the remaining light.


Good-bye third-floor room with maples leaves,

green seedpod that taps the window,

morning mist swirling over the James River.

beautiful light, thunder on the mountain.

Good-bye ash tree, sumac, wisteria.

Good-bye blackberry bramble.

Good-bye yellow dog, Maizie.

Good-bye peace.

Some say peace is carried within,

but can I fold up valleys

and take them with me?

Can I fold the James River,

the light, the blackberry bramble,

the yellow dog, and the maple tree

like silk dresses I slip into my suitcase?

Can I unpack a mountain?

Katherine Smith’s poems and fiction have appeared in a number of journals, among them Mezzo Cammin, Unsplendid, Measure, Fiction International, Gargoyle, Ploughshares, The Journal of the Motherhood Initiative, Shenandoah, The Southern Review, Atlanta Review, and Appalachian Heritage. Her first book, Argument by Design (Washington Writers’ Publishing House), appeared in 2003. She teaches at Montgomery College in Maryland.

Dotted Line