Dotted Line Dotted Line

Poetry Summer 2015    fiction    all issues


Cover Hannah Lansburgh

Jennifer Leigh Stevenson
For Your Own Good
& other poems

Marianne S. Johnson
& other poems

Kate Magill
Nest Study #1
& other poems

Karen Kraco
& other poems

Matt Daly
Beneath Your Bark
& other poems

Paulette Guerin
& other poems

Hank Hudepohl
Crossed Words
& other poems

Alma Eppchez
At the Back of the Road Atlas
& other poems

Jim Burrows
At the Megachurch
& other poems

Rachel Stolzman Gullo
& other poems

Yana Lyandres
New York Transplant
& other poems

Heather Katzoff
& other poems

Tom Yori
& other poems

Barth Landor
What Is Left
& other poems

Abigail F. Taylor
Never So Still
& other poems

George Longenecker
Polar Bears Drowning
& other poems

Ben Cromwell
Sometimes a Flock of Birds
& other poems

Robert Mammano
the way the ground shakes
& other poems

Janet Smith
Rocket Ship
& other poems

Gina Loring
& other poems

J. Lee Strickland
Minoan Elegy
& other poems

Toni Hanner
Catching the Baby
& other poems

Winner of $200 for 2nd-place-voted Poems

Marianne S. Johnson

Nine Feet East of Roadway Edge: One Shoe

The police report is staccato lines, check-the-box,

fill-in-the-blanks, measured. The mother hands it to me

over my desk with the files of minor tragedies, survivable

accidents piled between us. I knew she was coming,

so I put on a suit; she will want to see me as a lawyer,

not another mother of another nine-year old son.

I tell her that I will obtain the forty-one photos of the scene,

his small torso on the street, the ribs she tickled, his dark

hair unkempt. She doesn’t have to see them, won’t see

the red trails darkening the dirt shoulder, point of impact,

point of rest, in the school zone. The children knew

where to place the roadside flowers. Bright balloons

would leak like lungs, unlike a heart exploding

in a chest, a brain bursting in a skull, a breast

engorged and spurting with a baby’s cry.

I fixate on his shoe: sole up, black as asphalt

with day-glo green laces, how she bought them

wondering if he would wear them out before

he outgrew them, how his feet slipped into

and then out of them as loose as he slipped

out of her and into breath of air.


Last night I dreamt of butterflies

fluttering soft upon the small boy’s face,

his temple of asphalt wounds, blood

ponds, reflected in their stained glass wings.

The sound of my pounding heart

frightened them off, they rose

and strained against the gravity

of his hematoma chest. He was not mine.

A morgue shudder, my nightmare

hand clutched the bone cold table.

Monarchs circled above us, when my own

son’s face morphed onto the broken body

as the head turned to me, pulpy lips mouthing

“It didn’t hurt, mother.” A scream

jackknifed my lungs, choked

on the gallows weight of night.

Tort, torture, contorted

tonight, I am wakeful very late

and watch my sleeping son in his bed.

His twelve-year old body thrashes itself awake,

I cocoon into the small of his small back,

the room fogged into a chrysalis. “Mom, I’m fine,”

he mutters annoyed, but I stay a little,

listening for his eyelashes to wing off in flight.

Lessons for the Week

Tuesday night, my son studied

a Holocaust survivor, scrolling

the shrinking roll of Jewish names,

battered sepias of children before

their internments and tormentors.

Six million Jews were murdered,

and at least one million of them were children.

Yes, he is learning that.

My eighth-grader came home to news

of the Newtown 20, just nine days

left on the Christmas calendar.

Eyes stuck stoic in front of the TV

he asked if they were all first-graders

“like my buddy at school.” Yes, I said,

like your buddy at school. “I helped

him get his lunch today,” he stuttered

and I imagined the weed-stalk of him

bending low to hug his assigned bud,

look his little guy in the eye

and rustle him off into the wind.

Yes, he could do that.

Weekend deep in the terror of it,

I woke up screaming—his face

pasted onto dead children,

a young body in the morgue

thrown by a speeding car, swollen

with the violence of their embrace.

I fled the hysterical dark to his room,

his voice scraped awake with “what?”

but nothing escaped my throat.

In the morning whirl, he asked about

“that boy who skated” into the road

and I begged him never to do such things.

There was oatmeal and apple slices

in his promise. Yes, he could do that.

Wrongful Death

1. Plaintiff

I can’t move. An oddity on display.

They stare at me, a flightless bird-

creature from some obscure island

beyond any imaginable map’s edge,

I have buried a child, wretched thing

that I am. My boy-egg broken on asphalt,

a boy-petal crushed in the road,

boy-flesh of my flesh ravaged by metal

rubber and gravel. The boy-less mother—

if I exist, then fate is indeed cruel

and unusual. The unthinkable happens,

savages the earth; it vultures ‘round school

grounds and street corners. I’m the proof.

They can’t take their eyes off me.

Waiting for me to puddle onto

the floor at the mention

of his name. I won’t move.

If I move, the monsters under the bed

will know I am there, again. The monstrous

must account, the monstrous must

answer for this dark.

2. Attorney

I cannot smile. Retained woman,

smartly dressed at counsel table

made up face, disaster on my lips. No better

than the Barbie doll anchor serving up

the deaths of 135 in a plane

crash, live at five. I must speak

the unspeakable. A suit who filed suit

for the death of the boy. They hate me

already. How dare I ask

the value of a nine-year old in a grave?

Calculate the number of goodnight kisses

in a boy, compound the interest on his

soccer moves, the grades and grandchildren

left unearned. Price tag a love lost.

How can I? It is all I can do. He could have

been mine. He could have been theirs.

3. Juror

College is out, summer animates the halls.

This room, larger than I pictured, filled

with suited players, not the small,

swarmy stage of mockingbirds and

southern winds. The black robe

in charge crows to the lawyers

from his perch, captives in paper chains.

My name called and assigned

to seat number six, next to Five,

who looks like my Gramps when he

folds his arms. His children were grown

by a stay-at-home mom; they still breathe

and pay taxes and sweat in their beds.

What does Five know about single mom?

She could be a space alien to Five.

His bowels growl and it is still only morning.

Will I hear her womb scream, from here?

4. Attorney

Twelve faces lined up in an egg carton,

on the edge of breaking open in my hands

over the rail between the facts and their vanilla

safe, engineered, routine. They are about

to catch a nightmare, as if it could breed

like a germ I breathe on them. Tilt back

in the rack, as far as they can. Except for

number Six, whose body shifts toward me

and the horror I parade back and forth. She

wants to grab my hand as in a movie theater

when the music tenses just as blackbirds

murder on to a screen.

5. Juror

Mom shoulders into a fetal curl,

penitent as a nun. Only a handful

of years older than me, looking

a hundred years past dead.

She was me when she had him,

his tiny fingernails like fish scales

from pre-natal stew. A photo of his shoe

in the road, laces loose. He put them on that day

without a clue. His ten fingers, plump

as caterpillars gnawing a dirty palm,

would die within reach of her.

Her own hands weep in her lap.

A ruffle of crow wings. A bowel grumbles.

A throat clearing. A womb screaming.

6. Plaintiff

My ears are bleeding.

My eyes are blood-black.

My mouth is pooled black.

My uterus is pulpy road kill on the exhibit table.

Their eyes autopsy our lives—

every detail stitched with

womb memories, cut anew as a tomb

freshly hewn. Atrial muscle, a peeled

and sliced blood orange, pinned

to an emptied breast. They stare—

my hands bleed inconsolable.

7. Attorney

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,”

8. Juror

There are 100 trillion cells

in the human body, and one quarter

are red blood cells. I learned that

in biology class. Do her cells remember

his, laced in the membrane of red

between them? Her every breath sends

a purge of atoms that mourn him. The vein

in her neck is pounding out a dirge.

9. Attorney

“From the forensic, can you track the

boy’s path until he was struck by the car?”

My ears are ringing.

Mouth of desert. Number Six

cradles her flat belly and rocks.

Photos swirl his youth, his eyes eclipse

in black. He could have been—

no, he was



was never ten. He was never a senior

with a license in his pocket, never

a rapper or a bagger at the market,

or a lover stockbroker with chardonnay

leather satchel. Dark eyes never saw

more than nine, once caught red-

handed with skateboard

on the roof of the school

by the super, after his homies

flew the coop. Call your mother, son,

to pick up you and your board, the dude

said. Still only nine at springtime,

black Vans and a natural tan, father-

less and stepfather-less again,

after mom came off a twelve hour

shift into a smackaround.

Anthony calmed his sisters, listened

to the walls heaving, his black hair

sweating like a highway in the desert.

When I grow up, he thought, when I grow

up. Anthony did not see May break

into that April, never saw a girl’s blouse

unbutton in the backseat throes,

never saw the silver sedan blow

through the school zone as he darted out—

Marianne S. Johnson is married with two children, and a practicing attorney in San Diego, CA. Her poetry is published in several journals including Calyx, Sport Literate, Slant, The Kerf, and in the anthologies Lavanderia, Mamas and Papas, and The Far East Project. Her first chapbook of poems, Tender Collisions, is forthcoming from Aldrich Press in 2015. “Wrongful Death” is dedicated herein to the mother, and her son.

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