Dotted Line Dotted Line

Poetry Winter 2022    fiction    all issues


Li Zhang

Ana Reisens
Pam asked about Europe
& other poems

Krystle May Statler
To the Slow Burn
& other poems

Kristina Cecka
On Remodeling
& other poems

Belinda Roddie
Bless The Bones Of California
& other poems

Summer Rand
Alexander tells me how he'd like to be buried
& other poems

Alexander Perez
Toward the Rainbow
& other poems

Karo Ska
self-portrait of compassion…
& other poems

David Southward
The Pelican
& other poems

George Longenecker
Stamp Collection
& other poems

Mary Keating
& other poems

Talya Jankovits
Imagine A World Without Raging Hormones
& other poems

Laurie Holding
Sonnet to Mr. Frost
& other poems

David Ruekberg
A Short Essay on Love
& other poems

Elaine Greenwood
There’s a thick, quiet Angel
& other poems

Richard Baldo
Carry On Caretaker
& other poems

Jefferson Singer
Dave Righetti’s No-Hitter…
& other poems

Diane Ayer
A Fan
& other poems

Kaecey McCormick
Meditation Before Desert Monsoon
& other poems

Meg Whelan
& other poems

Katherine B. Arthaud
& other poems

Aaron Glover
On Transformation
& other poems

Anne Marie Wells
[I'm crying in a sandwich shop reading Diane Seuss' sonnets]
& other poems

Holly Cian
& other poems

Kimberly Russo
Selective Memories are the Only Gift of Dementia
& other poems

Steven Monte
& other poems

Mervyn Seivwright
Fear Mountain
& other poems

Writer's Site

David Southward

The First Tattoo

My whole life I’ve been afraid

     to stain my body, insisting

no mark is meaningful enough

     for ink’s permanence. Still here

I find myself: sitting backwards

     in Aaron’s chair, as he engraves

palm fronds on my scapula. A gift

     from my husband—to mark

the threshold of my fiftieth year:

     palm trees and grackles, a Florida

upbringing merged with adults-only

     Mexican getaways. With six hours

to kill, I’m nose-deep in a hardback

     memoir (Springsteen’s) as massive

as Moby-Dick. Eyeballs distracted

     by Aaron’s pin-ups of arabesque

biceps, I think of Queequeg,

     the Pequod’s nude harpooner,

stunning Ishmael with his aboriginal

     tattoo-treatise on the universe

no longer legible; how, in college,

     I winced at the keloidal make-up

of Maori warriors—irritated with ash

     to highlight youth’s passage

into pain, warfare, marriage, labor.

     It taught me how history could live

under the skin—indelible yet invisible

     until teased out with a stylus.

Like in last week’s episode of Nova

     on the tattoo’s origin: fresh evidence

of ochre and charcoal pulverized

     a hundred thousand years ago

by Homo sapiens rounding the Cape

     of Good Hope. (From the same cave

came Earth’s first graffiti, a crayon-

     red hashtag on a granite slab—

our meaty brain already impatient

     to make something of itself.)

As Aaron’s needle probes the V-

     shaped convergence of palm-trunks, I

almost faint; this vertebral crux

     is my tattoo’s darkest part. I squint

to refocus on the open book, Springsteen

     guiding followers into the crevasse

of his depression—no more the Boss

     than Ahab was captain on the trail

of a lost leg; than I was, all those years

     I didn’t write, fearing the itch

of the past like a wound too buried

     to be scratchable. Not until

Aaron smears my scars with aloe gel

     and hands me a mirror, do I see

all that’s behind me. Like the Boss says:

     we’re born to run. No wonder we need

such painful, beautiful reminders

     of what we can do to ourselves.

Object Lesson

Much as I failed

        to grasp it at the time,

my threadbare silk

        security blanket

must’ve posed a threat

        (however veiled) to Dad

that snow-piled night

        in the Midwest, when Cronkite

veered from an oil crisis

        to a solar eclipse

while Mom laid the table.

        Dad snatched

the fistful of rag

        from my hand—

flashing that big-brotherly

        half sneer, half smile

I knew meant trouble—

        and opened the front door

to throw it

        to the howling weather.

I wailed, ran

        straight into the maelstrom

to save my blankie. And maybe

        that was all

Dad needed to see: a spark

        of opposition, his only son

demanding love—knowing

        how hard it was

to come by that year,

        how little there was

between him and me

        and the ice.

Boiling Point 2020

Dear Mike, news of your death finds me

on one of those days in July

when the sliding door opens

to a porridge of steam, and all of Wisconsin

takes shade. Slogging through Facebook,

I’d been pondering how to respond

to paranoid memes, shared by cousins

I barely know—insinuations

that COVID is a deep-state hoax,

that Blacks are racist too, that Emperor Trump

will rescue the nation

from godless conspiracy—when Dad calls

to report that you, retired doctor and father

of six, close friend of 45 years,

have braced a gun to the roof of your mouth

and left this world in a wreath of smoke.

A survivor of stroke, dragging one leg at 83

through God knows what humiliations,

maybe you faltered in Florida’s sweltering heat,

or stopped noticing the horizon,

or couldn’t bear to be seen

as one more terminal patient—opting instead

for permanent anesthesia. I seize

my pen, wondering what to write

to your children, who once were like siblings

to me: that love may not be enough

to save us? that despair

thinks only of itself

and should therefore be pitied? that privilege

is no cure for extinction?

How different your leave-taking

from this morning’s more celebrated

casualty: Congressman John Lewis

who, departing amid his people’s cries

of defiance, must have felt he was riding a wave

of change—the only antidote

to life’s cancers. I imagine

your sons flying home

from Afghanistan, from Portland

(where the government’s bungled crackdown

is sure to incite protest)

while I’m out walking the dog

in the late afternoon. Maybe like you

we’ve all felt a little abandoned

by God this year. A lone officer

on a motorcycle, strapped in his gear,

passes me at the corner and wheels around

to the curb for a serious chat

with his headset. Watching him

beneath leaden clouds, I begin to hear

a chant working its way up the street: “WHAT

do we WANT?” Tomorrow I will lie still

in corpse pose, thinking I am but a witness

to these restless impositions of body and mind,

but today? With the dog pulling his leash,

with a hot breeze

whapping the American flag like a parachute

outside the nursing home—signs everywhere

urging “Wash your hands”—

and demonstrators shouting

through surgical masks, I can only think

Something must be done!

And with a feeling almost

of deliverance, Mike, I give in

with tears of welcome

to a gusting wind.

The People Who Served

From home or office they communed

via satellite, pawing at tiny keyboards

as they scrolled, scrolled

through templates of emoticons.

Seeking the perfect balance

of earnestness and insouciance,

they settled on the tone

of a precocious child.

Their days were spent cautiously

opening attachments, drafting proposals

for committee approval,

sending polite requests

to leave feedback—along with reminders

of forthcoming galas and improvements

to their policies. They downloaded

upgrades, and notified each other

of precious discounts

soon to expire from their reward plans.

Occasionally they complained

to a confidant: progress was tiring.

Their devices came with so many

conveniences, one constantly had to re-learn

how easy life had become.

The truly helpless, frustrated

by a glitch or malfunction, found solace

in the cheerful, scripted replies

of their call-center counterparts in Manila.

Naturally they were asked to fill out surveys,

letting their providers know

how satisfied they were, on a scale of 1 to 5.

Their wallets grew fat with enrollments

in loyalty programs, with advantage cards

and other emblems of belonging.

In an environment foaming

with options, even the most trivial

acts (buying toothpaste, ordering coffee)

became occasions

for self-searching. And the future,

when it crossed their minds at all,

seemed a vertiginous

and vaguely unsettling

expansion of opportunity.

So they stayed focused, ticking

items off schedules and lists, shuffling

documents in the nervous company

of a billion others: the lord-less

smiling vassals, dutifully

serving each other to death.

The Pelican

Let me fly serenely

    above the silver bay,

        no rival birds between me

    and a deep, elusive prey.

Let there be no distractions

    when, following the course

        of myriad refractions,

    I stalk their moving source.

Then let me wheel in silence

    on my angelic span.

        With concentrated violence,

    let me fold my fan

and dive without detection

    toward a silver meal—

        piercing my reflection

    to feed upon the real.

David Southward grew up in Southwest Florida and currently teaches in the Honors College at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He is the author of Bachelor’s Buttons (Kelsay Books 2020) and Apocrypha, a sonnet sequence based on the Gospels (Wipf & Stock 2018). David resides in Milwaukee with his husband, Geoff, and their two beagles. Read more at

Dotted Line