Dotted Line Dotted Line

Poetry Summer 2014    fiction    all issues


Anne Rankin-Kotchek
Letter to the World
from a Dying Woman
& other poems

Sara Graybeal
Ghetto City
& other poems

Tee Iseminger
& other poems

Lisa Beth Fulgham
After They Sold the Cows...
& other poems

Mary Mills
The Practical Knowledge
of Women
& other poems

Monika Cassel
Waldschatten, Muttersprache
& other poems

Michael Fleming
To a Fighter
& other poems

Daniel Stewart
& other poems

John Glowney
& other poems

Hannah Callahan
The Ptarmigan Suite
& other poems

Lee Kisling
How the Music Came
to My Father
& other poems

Jose A. Alcantara
Finding the God Particle
& other poems

David A. Bart
Veteran’s Park
& other poems

Greg Grummer
War Reportage
& other poems

Rande Mack
& other poems

J. K. Kitchen
Anger Kills Himself
& other poems

Jim Pascual Agustin
The Man Who Wished
He Was Lego
& other poems

Jessica M. Lockhart
Scylla of the Alabama
& other poems

James P. Leveque
Three Films of Jean Painlevé
& other poems

Kelsey Charles
& other poems

Therese L. Broderick
& other poems

Lane Falcon
& other poems

Ricky Ray
The Bird
& other poems

Phoebe Reeves
Every Petal
& other poems

David Livingstone Fore
Eternity is a very long time...
& other poems

Tim Hawkins
Northern Idyll
& other poems

Abigail F. Taylor
On the Pillow Where You Lie
& other poems

Joey DeSantis
Baby Names
& other poems

Cameron Price
Every Morning
& other poems

David Walker
Sestina for Housesitting
& other poems

Helen R. Peterson
& other poems

Ricky Ray

The Bird


She looked over and saw a bird underneath a city tree,

its head sunken,

its body so still and low we thought it dead.

Then it struggled to lift its head and showed us:

one eye swollen, an inlaid marble,

the other swollen and crusted over,

the beak grotesque with infection.

It wobbled its head like five-hundred pounds,

shook as though a fault line were widening,

and it was.

Her heart leapt out of her and I felt it and mine followed.

Then I acted out of pain and frustration,

that sobering, sorrowful uselessness,

told her to get up, I wanted action, said

sitting there being sad was doing nothing to help it,

and that was true, or maybe it wasn’t,

but it was the wrong way to say it,

the wrong way to harness this energy

hovering over a life that was broken and breaking apart.

We carried our groceries upstairs,

called the rehab center and left a message.

Got down the cat carrier,

made a nest out of socks and an old T-shirt,

a nest we’d made before, and told the cats to be good.


Then we went down and she cupped it in her hands

and lowered it in, covered it, told me

how cold it felt, and bony: even less of a chance.

I found hand warmers in our emergency kit,

shook them and placed them over its wings.

She filled a tea cup with water

and dripped drops along its beak.

We couldn’t tell if it swallowed,

tried to decide what to do,

turned to the internet for help.

It didn’t offer much.

Then I heard commotion in the cage,

saw it flapping and called her over.

Maybe the warmers were too hot,

or maybe it wanted freedom,

from here, from its body, from life, just—out.

She held it again, tried to shh its heart calm.

It settled for a moment.

Then it flapped harder,

flipped itself over, scrambled its claws in the air.

We saw the gash along its body, how wasted its flesh,

felt its inability to eat and she made the call.

I had no doubt in the right of her heart.

Something in me knew this was coming,

forefelt the tears in her eyes,

the dread in my limbs.


I found the sharpest, largest knife I could

and hid it along the arm of my sweater.

She asked if I was going to break its neck.

I shook my head, said I wasn’t confident

that would be as quick and painless as it seemed;

what I had in mind would be quicker and sure.

She asked if she could carry it to the roof,

and I said yes, picked up a plastic bag for after.

Then she asked if she could help,

and I said no, wanted to spare her that,

and she didn’t protest or ask again,

walked to the other side of the roof and cried.


I held it down on a flat rock,

its head drooping on that mangled neck,

felt the strength in its muscle

as I pinned it down

—so faint—

pressed the blade gently but steadily into its throat,

its beautiful, purple-green, grey feathered throat,

and sliced,

quick and hard,

in one swift stroke

severing spine and head

and leading its blood toward the light.

God, how that headless body writhed,

bucked for minutes against

the stillness that called it out of this world,

or down through its seams

into the underbelly of existence,

and no wonder it shook:

all that energy leaving the body at once.

I walked over and hugged her then,

saw her wet, red, swollen eyes

and felt pangs I have no words for.


I asked her to get napkins

and two more plastic bags

to clean up what I’d done.

She did.

I cleaned, kept the head with the body and wrapped it in white.

She saw the knife on the way down and knew.

We placed it in the freezer,

with the others we’d found on our walks through the city,

so many avian deaths dotting the sidewalks.

We’d bury them soon,

before winter and its hardening

made the ground and the task even more . . . more what?

I don’t know.

But she thanked me then, and that—that I understood.


Later that day,

she said a good man

is better than a great one.

I know what she means.

And when she says it,

I believe her.

She said her heart felt better, lighter,

at ease in the release—its,

the relief—ours.


I went up there the next morning

to check the spot:

all that was left was an already fading,

poorly wiped-up pool of blood.

That, and something I couldn’t name,

something that passes between us in times like these,

something that made my whole body tingle with affection

when I went back down and watched her sleep.

Something that stirs deep in this being,

deep where we are no longer merely human,

spreads its wings and flies with me,

flies through me now here to you.


Is this sufficient?

Have I made the life of the bird

and our involvement in it an honored thing?

Is this good enough to put down the pen,

bow my head to life and its ways

and let nature carry on?

I don’t know, but it feels good enough

to sleep on, and at the moment,

that’s good enough for me.



dear bird,

I’ll say hello

to your fellows

in the morning.


And thanks, world,

for whatever it is

I received today—

I don’t need

to know its name.

Chopping Wood

I liked going out in the rain,

so much rain in that land

of green hills, evergreens

and infections of the lung,

liked stepping through

puddles in my once

water-resistant boots

as I made my way

to the woodshed where

I’d pull the rusty light-cord,

check for spider webs,

then eye the piles,

one of oak, several of fir,

and pick the next ashes

for our old-fashioned,

wood-burning stove.

Then I’d carry the logs

to the chopping block

and drop them, not carelessly,

but less concerned with

the way they’d lie

than the way they fell,

and wonder about

the woodsman who felled them,

how he’d ponder

bringing them down

from the sky

and selling them

by the cord, whether

the land was his

or he bought them,

walking through

and showing which,

splashing paint

on the bark

to remember.

Then I’d pick up the logs,

heft the weight

of wood in my hand

and place them on the block,

this time with care

so they wouldn’t fall

and would offer me

their broadest face

to swing my favorite

axe down into.

And then I’d begin

the work that took me

out in the rain in joy,

I’d measure my paces

back from the block,

a two-hundred fir

by my quick reckoning,

I’d lower my hands

along the shaft,

send the heavy head

along its arc

and throw some

muscle into the slice.

And if the wood

was placed right

and the swing

was hard enough,

if hand and eye, mind

and muscle came together

in perfect concert,

the wood would split,

the blade would embed

ever so slightly

in the face of the block,

and I’d place my sole

on the edge of that old fir,

I’d firm my grip on the handle

and use the leverage

of my body

to bring

the axe-glint

back into the light.

And if any of those

things was off, the axe

would get stuck

in the little log, and I’d

lift it, axe and all, over my head

and come crashing down

until it split, or the blade would

stick in the block

deeper than I’d intended

and I’d have to tease it

side to side while

I tried to coax it out.

An hour’s rain later,

out it would come,

the wood would be split

and I’d pile it in my arms,

careful of splinters,

then carry it in

to warm the bodies,

the lives of my

wife and children.

Once, I missed the log

and the block entirely

and the blade

glanced off my shin,

but made no damage,

no cut, not even a bruise,

and I thought of how

easily the bone

would have splintered,

I felt pain at

the thought of

being a tree

subject to the woodsman’s

expertise, the loss of shade

that was respite

to so many creatures,

the nests

that may have been woven

high up

in the swaying branches,

the resting spots

for migrants, playgrounds

for squirrels, the haunts

for owls whose screeches

scorched us in our beds,

the cats alert with God

only knows in their ears.

And I thought of the grave

I dug on that property,

larger than a man’s grave,

the size of a woman

and child I thought

as I dug through dirt

into grey clay

that didn’t want to be dug,

the mother llama looking on

and moaning low

as her child’s body

decomposed under the tarp.

Then I stepped

out of the rain

onto the doorstep,

opened the door

and saw those

dear faces,

and was glad all that

thinking and chopping

was behind me.

Ricky Ray was born in Florida and educated at Columbia University. A non-dualist, he was once a garbage man, a functional bum, and a record label owner. In 2013, he received the Ron McFarland Poetry Prize, second-prize in the Whisper River Poetry Contest, and was a runner-up in the Georgetown Review Magazine Contest. He lives in NYC with his wife and three cats, where they dream of farm life in an undiscovered village.

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