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 $1000 for 1st-place-voted Poems

Jennifer Leigh Stevenson

For Your Own Good

Isn’t it a wonder, the way someone fills

you up? Feasts on the least of you? She

knocked on the hollow part of me, a

master craftsman with shutters for eyes.

With little more than night’s breath and

panty’s breadth between me and her

that time and she kneaded my hip to a

bruise and sloppily hummed “Blue in

Green” while I shivered and learned

some things.

Her bright lipstick lingered everywhere,

on the steam-roller bong, the end of her

cigarettes. Once she left her mouth

mark on my earlobe which really required

some explaining.

On the bottom of the

tube: Matte Finish, then BRAZEN.

So. It was me who always ate the jelly beans

she stashed in her glove box and it was me

who stole her quarters to call a guy.

It was him who made her want to die. At

least she said it was. She had a loose

relationship with telling.

Another time she painted our toe nails

black and plucked my eyebrows

super thin like Anaïs Nin’s. Man did I

want her to love me but I just couldn’t

balance all that fear and feasting

on my fingertip. I told her how the deep

divot between her nose and lip drove

me delirious, and she laughed, named

it a philtrum. Sometimes she put hickeys

on me in hidden places. Sometimes

she put her feet in my lap when I drove.

She left early one morning, I watched her go.

She put on her long dark skirt and peplum

jacket, rolled her hair into a ballet bun and

shed our yesterday like a too small snake skin.

The Oracle Squints

She hears the clack of my prayer beads

I want lips sliding across my collarbone

She understands my lack and longing

I know who governs my neck and throat

I light candles

leave offerings

ink drawings wrapped in my hair

poems written small

              things that drip with meaning

drown in feeling

              things of touch and taste

and reason

I feel wanton but buttoned

so I turn on the night music

loud and honey-slow

start a fire to bring

a little atmosphere

in here

my shadow shivers on the wall

my feet are bare

these stones are cold

everyone is hungry

Some burn incense

to please a goddess

I sacrifice words

to woo her


A cigarette burns in an ashtray

lipstick on the filter a yelp of red

I know it must belong to an old

woman or a young one, no one

in-between bothers

sip at my scotch

she slinks up, a gorgeous graceless

thing, pale with dark bangs

and melamine eyes, gives

me a grin, those red lips dragging

a stain on her front tooth

oh she’s a rock and roller

I smile, touch my own mouth

automatic, and she understands

draws her tongue back and forth

then bares her teeth at me

and I nod, serious

yes it’s gone

she rejoins her cigarette, blinks

at me through the smoke and din

like some nocturnal creature

tiny and shivery and very alive

and I lean over

she smells of fall

firewood, apples and clove

I wince with sudden comfort

she will have Violent Femmes

records and she will touch

my cheeks with her thumbs

tender and kind

Ghost Towns

Last spring your neighbor’s cat laid a baby rabbit

                            on your front steps, a tribute bloody and very

              much alive.

It’s suffering

              I sobbed.

                            Your face solemn, you told me

                            Go inside, Hummingbird.

I loved your country boy know-how

                            your mercy

and when I shook off my city girl shock I kissed you so

              long and hard your mouth bruised

                            like fruit.

But now I only have this map.

I left at dusk, bought some cheap whiskey, a six pack of beer

              drove all night and made it here with stars to spare

                            so I parked and drank the sun awake.

              Take exit 148 toward Luther

I distrust this small hush, the lavender horizon now burning pink, too perfect

              to be real. Windows down, air already

so hot it hurts. My car rumbles a sad thrum over the gravel.

              Turn left onto Hogback Rd

                            Sweat licks down my neck.

Summer finds these back roads rutted by drought. Red dirt dust stirs lazy

              in the molten August morning—everything sticks

                                          but nothing stays.

              Pottawatomie Rd turns right

A sort-of understanding dawns at golden hour:

              Fallis spelled in rock on a hillock.

I chose to visit this place first for three reasons:

poets and quiet and cock

You had southern rocker locks, wore aviator sunglasses like a traffic cop.

              Your sublime Okie drawl hinted

at drowsy Sunday afternoons. Of black magic,

                            of limbs tangled in too warm sheets. Of swamps

              and sweat and Jack. Your voice

                            like pecan pie.

One day you looked long at my hands, at my curls breeze blown.

              You said

              You look like a radioactive Pre-Raphaelite, all hands

                            and eyes and hair.

Grinned around the Camel held in your teeth. Unabashed.

              So of course I took you home. Tasted the sun without

                                          burning my tongue and made you a habit.

That summer we just drove, took black and white photos

              of ghost towns and gravestones. The best has you leaned against a

                            pleading angel,

a toothpick pointing jaunty from your smile. You caught

              me candid that same day, hazy daylight roaring through my sundress

and my legs backlit. I lifted that skirt later and rode you

                                          before the ride home,

              my hair in your mouth.

              Take the 1st right onto 3rd St

                            From the heavy trees an aggressive mailbox juts out

forward and to the left

                            like a boxer’s jaw twisted and ruined:

              A.Whittaker Red Fox 1034

An address long abandoned, hidden by overgrowth. Shadows dapple

              the silvered eaves, and the wood shingles,

shaped like dragon scales, have gone

              to stone.

                            I ease open the door, certain

all this honeyed peace is bait on a trap. Inside, a wingback chair

              flower fabric rotted away

                                        sits in a thrust of sunshine.

Maybe you caused all this damage

              too. A pan on the stove

a canister of salt on the countertop.

                            Mrs. Whittaker washed coffee mugs one morning

              lined them up on the window sill to dry

but she’s gone now, some apocalypse,

              maybe, some rapture come to claim the blameless

                                          and I’m still here.

              Take exit 157 for OK-33

Noon and the searing wind seethes,

              slaps my cheeks red and oh lord all the booze

has caught up                   my head pounding

with heat and hangover and something else

                            something like fear.

              Turn right onto Coyote Trail

On to Centralia, where a shell of a home stands

                            its west wall intact

              a crocheted potholder faded dull dangles from a nail

the wallpaper bears pale scars where

                            framed pictures once hung.

              Slight right to stay on E 160 Rd

I find a huge snakeskin in a church vestibule and soda cans

                            in the baptismal. Open a hymnal

to page seventy-three. Despite the dim I feel

              see-through in this place and some angry weight makes me run

                            away with a thudding heart.

              Take the 3rd left onto W Grand Ave

                            Another house.

This one suffered

              bricks broken

                                          walls scorched.

A mattress reduced to rusty springs shoved in the fireplace.

                            Beneath a window sits a claw-footed

tub filled with scat and shards of glass.

              Turn left onto E0740 Rd

Suits under thick layers of dust lined up neat in a closet,

              a wedding album

buried in rubble. No great catastrophe.

                                          Just time.

As I drive I’m listening loud to songs with fiddles

                            harmony and heartache.

              Hiwassee Road declares a hand-painted sign, white on black.

I take my last right past a barn

                            smashed gray and silent

              under a felled oak, my tank top sweated through—

                            but my eyes       dry in the rearview.

Yes, loving me was a lonesome business. I saw your stillness as beautiful yet

              I could not be still.

From the bed you said

                            Come here, Hummingbird

              your face so bright I turned away.         True,

your mouth was nectar, so I rubbed

gardenia petals into the pulse

                            of my throat.

              Hummed a paean to you as I turned out the light.

Such solace, for a little while.

Yesterday morning

              I watched your broad

back in sleep

                                          a gentle up and down.

              The curtains stirred and the open air felt like a failed spell,

                            heavy with cause

or maybe just Dread,

              lurking with her black, rolling eyes, her demon mouth filled

with shotgun pellets and sweet tea rot.

              I think she’d say

Bless your heart,

                            right before she gobbled it up.

Someone posted a sign, jarring in its shiny modernity:

                            Welcome to Pleasant Valley!

              There’s no real welcome, pleasant or otherwise, just a few store fronts

                                          with broken windows and determined trees

                            growing twisted

though cracked foundations--

                            Mostly it’s just desolate prairie and grassland

the post office gone

the outlaws too

              and of course you

Ardor Is Arson

I’d rather be an arsonist than a lover,

I’m better in an immediate crisis, better in all black,

silhouetted against a billowing conflagration.

(The conditions are right, no wind tonight, no moon.)

A book of matches or a bottle of wine,

it makes no difference in the end,

the outcome is the same:

someone without a home

someone left with sadness

that clings like a smoldering scent,

eats all the air in here, in the between.

I burned my house down and gave you the ashes.

A born and bred Oklahoman, Jennifer Leigh Stevenson loves the backroads. She began writing poetry in ninth grade, studied music and theater at University of Central Oklahoma and wound up (somehow) in banking. For years she scribbled lines on napkins and wrote rhymes on the back of receipts, until she realized she wanted to be a writer more than anything. This marks Jennifer’s first time to be published.

Dotted Line