Dotted Line Dotted Line

Poetry Winter 2016    fiction    all issues


Cover Joel Filipe

Alexander McCoy
Questions to Ask a Mountain
& other poems

Alexandra Kamerling
& other poems

Debbie Hall
She Walks Into Starbucks Carrying a 2 x 4
& other poems

Michael Fleming
& other poems

Jim Pascual Agustin
Sheet and Exposed Feet
& other poems

Melissa Cantrell
& other poems

Martin Conte
& other poems

AJ Powell
The Road to Homer
& other poems

Paul W. Child
World Diverted
& other poems

Michael Eaton
& other poems

Lawrence Hayes
Walking the Earth
& other poems

Daniel Sinderson
Like a Bit of Harp and a Far Off Twinkle
& other poems

Sam Hersh
Las Trampas
& other poems

Margo Jodyne Dills
Babies and Young Lovers
& other poems

Nicole Anania
To the Dying Man's Daughter
& other poems

Lisa Zou
Under the Parlor
& other poems

Hazel Kight Witham
Hoofbeat Heartbeat
& other poems

Margaret Dawson
& other poems

James Wolf
An Act of Kindness
& other poems

Jane A. Horvat
& other poems

Bill Newby
& other poems

Jennifer Sclafani
Hindsight Twenty Twenty
& other poems

Paul W. Child

World Diverted

Earth takes us in awhile as transient guests;
we live by habit, which we must unlearn.
     Anna Akhmatova, “There Are Four of Us”
     (translated by Stanley Kunitz)

The river where the Sioux boys dashed the carp

upon the rocks because they were trash fish

was dammed up and diverted.

The boys I feared and envied

not because they were Sioux boys

but because they skipped school,

fishing irreligious all day long,

are dead in gunfights now, parched with thirst from type 2 diabetes,

cirrhotic in the penitentiary,

reading Zane Grey pulp with yellowing eyes.

The house I lived in as a boy

in the South Dakota town of trains and steeples,

came down in a maul of clattering hammers,

clutter of grey plaster, laths, and horsehair,

a house so broken by the generations

of Irish bully-boys and coal-haired shy colleens long-dead

I doubt that anyone even noticed

the hole I bored with penknife in the bedroom wall

to watch my virgin aunt Peg in the bath

while the world took turns,

a peephole moon cast shadows on the snow,

and icicles wept out their days upon the muntins.

The cathedral school in which I learned my Latin and long lessons,

timid as a chapel mouse beneath the towering eyes

of black and frowning nuns,

closed when the young priest

with the shock of chestnut hair

whom in my genuflections I tried so hard to please

but whose eye always narrowed

on my pretty little brother,

was sent for some mysterious reason back to Flandreau,

with the last tall nun on the last day

when I slammed down the lid

of the long-suffering wooden desk

at the last 3:30 bell and raced down to the river

to watch the Sioux boys dash the heads of carp

upon the rocks, the shattered orange-pink scales,

the cloy of fish-slick stones and slip of mucus,

tangled filament and hooks, sad, broken lips.

If you look for the old cathedral school, the house, the boys,

you will not find them where they were

in their accustomed places in that northern town.

If you look tonight for the cold winter moon,

you will not find it where you left it,

shining on the trainyards and the roofs of rooming houses.

And if you look for me tomorrow,

you will not find me who I was.

The world has unlearned all of its long habits.

I never was the world’s guest; the world was mine.

The Fault, Dear Brutus

The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars

but in our cells, ghost ships shuttling our wills

upon the busy enzymatic tides

to the far outposts of the bone and nerve.

My cunning and my hatred of smug men,

that balding, simpering queen of Bithynia

whom Nicomedes pinned down on his couch,

a despot lubricate with Asian spittle,

the great man twittering like a conquering moth,

were stitched into my chromosomes at birth,

a hate so great that even as a boy

I took on Sulla’s brat in fisticuffs

and would have kicked his shins and blacked his eye

if our tutor had not separated us.

And now while we fret idle, driftwood fools,

this ponce plays pretty at the falling sickness,

foaming at the mouth, when it’s convenient,

knowing that a strapping young centurion

will force his sword between his yellowed dentures

to keep the prick from biting off his tongue.

And this is Rome?

Friend, the things that we might do together,

I, jackal-headed, dangerous, and you,

a handsome man born in a wicked world

where beauty cruelly tyrannizes men;

I, busy in the history of knives

while Porcia stabs your palate with her tongue

and twists her fingers in your glossy curls.

This temporizing will no longer do,

for scheming with slack nerve is impotent,

and beauty has responsibilities.

Let’s make this despot his own haruspex,

his final words not et tu Brute but

my uncoiled entrails tell me that I’ll die

of daggers here upon the Senate steps.

(His self-reflections never trawl too deep.)

I know a vates who is serviceable,

has ominous dates at hand for any month,

and falconer for hire who’ll let his birds

out for a nighttime shrieking. We’ll consult

the almanacs to find the perfect day

when the moon blot out the sun in an eclipse;

the comets, bloody rain, and all the rest

we can manage easily with lasers.

Our will will find some willing conduit,

a scruffy earringed small-town English hack

who’ll make a shilling on the London stage,

and if his Cassius is pimply-faced,

his Brutus snuffling through a crooked septum,

and if we cringe when they fall clumsily

upon their wooden swords, at least they play

at our brave deeds—but only if we act.

Sure, old kings will still go mad upon the moors

and drunken porters piss on Scottish doors

because they do, because they always have,

but if our fate be stranded in the cells,

the blackamoor won’t suffocate his bitch,

those dago teens won’t feel each other up

and kiss themselves to death in the cold tomb,

that moping Danish prig will fail to act,

resort instead to Prozac for his moods.

So, brother, if you find your will is stalled,

a trireme stilled in cytoplasmic seas,

if you don’t have the requisite x-y,

I know a woman who is man enough

to make her point by stabbing her own thigh,

a manic virago who understands

the hate of tyranny cannot be quenched,

as you must certain find out when she snuffs

the orange coals of her tongue in your pretty mouth.

The Muse I Married

The muse I married, my prophetess and seer,

who once arrested lightning from the gods,

now gossips at the fence with Kathy Kuhar;

sinks to her Slavic ankles in the backyard mud,

her hair tacked up with clothespins;

whinnies out I saids, she saids, he saids

and clucks about the Devlin girl’s behavior.

The mad, divining bride who shook in fits

when random gales of gods blew through her,

now hikes up her skirts at every chance she gets

and dances to amuse the neighbor girls.

Oh where is inspiration when the crazed

Cassandra of North Sawdust Drive

who stood upon a scaffolding of stars and seas

and screeched out oracles

now snores in front of flinty television skies,

her eyes rolled back like clamshells,

while I warm coffee from the day before

and pack the children’s lunchpails?

Oh where is inspiration when the mad suburban sibyl

who, frenzied, read the flights of birds,

hair scratching like barbed wire at the sky,

now gabbles on and on and on and on

with recipes for budget-saving chicken,

bawling halfway up and down our street in self-congratulations,

giddy with the noise of her own tongue?

Or have the gods themselves descended

to shouting out the weather and trifling cures for head lice,

to recipes for scouring sinks and haggling over prices,

to meddling with a pretty girl’s fall from grace?

The gods, I know, will always speak in riddles,

which we may never understand.

But must I scribble down this silly hinny’s chatter

to catch at the divine wind?

Astyanax in Dactyls

Hiding in bellies of airplanes, the wicks of their eyes soaked in petrol, the

Argive terror come once again with the dawn bloody-fingered and wearing white

helmets of tusks stitched together like dominoes made out of shiny-toothed

boars, the blind killers, to topple the topless two towers in a frenzy of

fire the city of commerce and industry, boulevards, subways, and

tony boutiques in an orgy of butchery, huge broken knuckles of

gashed stone and spears of plate glass tall as Trojans, the vast bloody cakes of red

flesh raining down in a glutting of swords while the knees of the towers were

buckling, the Hudson become once again the Scamander still burning, the

sacrifice billowing up to the ravening skies of Manhattan.


breakers of horses some two hundred fell from the floors of the towers to

graved paving stones: Some were pushed by a crush at the windows, some blinded by

smoke smut too stupid to know they had come to the edge, and still other ones

leapt for their lives to their deaths, choking better to drown in the air than to

drown in the wash of the suffocate petrol. Some jumpers held hands as they

drafted down. Friends? perhaps lovers? or two who had shared the same cubicle

twenty-three years without saying hello but determined that though we must

die by ourselves they would not die alone. And the pimply-faced red-headed

boy from the mailroom too shy till this moment to speak to her takes by the

hand the plump married young mother of two from the Bronx and through snaggled teeth

whispers her, “So it is time. Shall we go?”

                                                                                   Videos show these lost

fallers of Ilium drifting down raglike or fluttering excited, some

playing at somersaults, aerialists frolicking each in performance (though

one woman modestly holds down her skirt to prevent it from splaying in-

decently). Each of them woke by himself to the nightmare of gravity,

rush of an ear-wincing wind as he tore through the awnings of sidewalk ca-

fés, each torpedoed, and burst through the windy black pavements of Troy and to

blackness forever, there fallen or thrown by the Argives debauched in their

carnival killings the sirens’ hosanna from Patrick’s Cathedral, the

tocsins exhausted.

                                            But one from the clouds of the ninety-fifth floor in the

office of Marsh and McLennan, professional services, stepped off the

window ledge so nonchalantly he might have been strolling through doors of a

lift. Of all those who fell terrified plunged from the towers that day only

he understood that a falling must fatally follow the building of

towers, that even the towering father whose horse plumes will frighten us

into the bosoms of nurses and wives, knew that even he falls and be-

comes but a chine of raw ox-meat, his wounds kisses puckering from sharp lipsticked

spears and the killer with Greek eye-slits drags him around and around the two

towers behind an orange bulldozer dead.

                                                                               There was nothing so routine as

rising that day from his desk, to collect all his papers, to walk to the

window as if to remark that the weather looked ominous, step on the

ledge and to fall through the atmosphere, fall without fireman’s net or the

webbed net of fate fixed to catch him, he catching an image reflected in

glass of the towers a boy who had falln from the sky like a dying young

god who was Troy’s other hope.

                                                                        What did it matter that children are

casualties, paying the tax on their father’s mad vanities? What did it

matter the boys his own age with whom he had been playing just yesterday

baseball upon the acropolis lawn, those two brothers Thymbraeus and

young Antiphantes entwined in the knots of sea pythons because their old

man had called Greeks Greeks?

                                                                     What did it matter the bitch pathological

liar with barbed wire hair who had screeched out that bloody Achaean hearts

beat in the bellies of planes, who were hopped up on poppers, cantharides,

pills, that among them the son-thirsty son of the man who had dragged the boy’s

father who screamed like an eagle had vowed to avenge his own father’s weak

tears in a moment of womanish sympathy, gotten of woman and

woman himself but born mad to be brutal who found a new faith to give

cause to his bloody psychopathy. What did it matter that she would be

strapped to an altar by sweat-matted Locrians, greased with their spittle, and

raped to the nub?

                                              What did it matter that just before falling he

saw in his dizzying eyes in a red New York harbor the burning of

water the thousand unsettled who followed like formicant insects with

purpose one man who was bent under burden of piety, man on his

back like a haversack, clutching the hand of a candle-capped boy, the man’s

wife left behind in the orgy of fire become a dead wick of black

carbon returning to fetch her Versace hand bag, while he clutched in the

other the lares, penates, the fond household gods of Algonquians and

old Dutch patroons, Peter Stuyvesant? What did it matter the refugees

willing to risk the horizon, the skyline was riven with masts while the

spires of gods of that city were burning behind them, the falling man

knowing that they too would build up their towers in other walled cities of

wide lanes and tram cars, that they too would tumble down buildings in orgies of

blood to be washed by the sea to the shores of new empires and knowing their

impious jets too would cut the pale throat of the sky, that their hop-headed

warriors would pry the veiled priestess to unholy shards and America

forfeit its right to be tragic?

                                                                 This was the man of all men who knew

falling that towers will always be raised to be razed until history

waves its last flag, its last widow dies clutching the medals her husband won

falling on alien soil in the last sputtering war until, everything

vertical made horizontal, the earth becomes flat yet again and its

gods are all dead.

                                              Would it have mattered if seeing him falling past

stories a god interfering had reached through the greasy opacus of

ashes, had scooped him from air and then set him down gently in Smyrna two

hundred or five thousand miles away in the fields of white clover and

silos, of gambrel-roofed houses, the tilted green valley where Pleasant Brook

flows through the veins of the poets to mix with the sludge of the Tiber?

Afterwards helmeted rescuers up to their eyes in the ashes of

brokers, accountants, cinereous boys who had shuttled the lunch carts from

story to story, the tarry mascara of blonde secretaries, the

noisome black flies in the dead air of soothsaid September, men carrying

corpses upon their bent backs like rucksacks, could not find him amid all the

potsherds, the broken amphora with pictures of men running naked a-

round and around a clay track or Odysseus laying his infant son

down in the furrows before the bronze plow and the rebar of iron ropes

twisted in bold and fantastical shapes, into hearts, crucifixes and

writhing snakes flung from the talons of bald eagles, he having vanished to

vapor and atoms.

                                               How shall we plaster the hole in the sky where the

towers once stood, shall we paper the hole that the man with his briefcase in

hand while the wind was on fire with the swirl of our contracts and folders and

pages of blank actuary reports fell so casually through because

Troy never mattered?

Paul W. Child is Professor of English and Director of Graduate Studies in English at Sam Houston State University, where he teaches classes in literature of the long eighteenth century and the early English novel.

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