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

Writer's Site

Michael Fleming

The Signalman’s Story

December 7, 1941

What do you do with the news? When the call

comes in from Honolulu—Sunday morning,

the San Francisco coast is clear, all

the other men asleep—nobody warned

you, just a kid from St. Cloud, that today

you would handle history’s lightning bolt,

you would be the first to know. Do you pray?

No one even knows the words: Midway, Gold

Star Mothers, Guadalcanal, Saipan, loose

lips, Hiroshima. Right now it belongs

to you, alone at the teletype. Refuse

to believe, as if you could choose? Not wrong,

not right. What do you do with the news?

You do your duty: you pass it along.

Alcova, 1971

Thirteen, so I knew all about it—how

to tack, how to jibe, how to sail it flat

on a broad reach or close-hauled, with the prow

pointed home, the foam boiling astern, cat’s-

paws ghosting the water, the telltale clues

to the fickle mind of the wind—yes, I

knew all that, I’d read not one book, but two,

so all those words were mine. He let me buy

it: bright yellow Sunfish, thirteen feet, used,

let me launch it just two weeks after ice-

out on a raw, squally spring morning, too

soon but I couldn’t wait, wouldn’t wait, I

said I was ready and hoisted the sail,

cleated the halyard, ducked the boom that missed

my head by inches, inducted myself

into the Order of the Orange Life-Vest—

he cinched me in tight. I clambered aboard,

took up the tiller, fumbled for the sheet,

squinted into the wind like Nelson, Hornblower,

Jones. I said I was ready. He

pushed out the prow, reconsidered, then stepped

a big step, unexpected, irretrievable—

barely onboard as the boat leapt

ahead, already planing, the wind heaved

its shoulder full force into the sail’s belly,

and I hadn’t thought of any of this—

how it would really feel, surging pell-mell

into the lake, hearing the frantic hiss

of cold water gurgling beneath us, how

the sheet would cut into my untested

right hand, or how the hull would buck and jounce

while my left fought a phantom that arm-wrestled

me for the tiller. I hadn’t dreamed

of fear, of being overmastered—my

command redoubled. We beat a hard beam

reach, downwind fifty yards, no more, and I

shouldn’t have fought the gust that turtled us,

should have dropped the tiller, let the sheet slip

harmless from my stubborn fist, should have trusted

the old adage—just let go, the ship

will find its own level—but no, I held

on tight and over we went, first a shock

knocked me breathless, electric ice, the shell

of the hull rolled belly up and it rocked

away from my groping, squirted away

slick, ungrabbable, the daggerboard streaming

snotbrown water, and then—what? I may

have lunged for his flailing hands, may have screamed

Dad!—may even have seen him go down, slip

silently down while I bobbed above, useless

as a newborn in the bright orange grip

of the vest—I may have watched myself lose

him, may have seen what I had to unsee,

to make unhappen: his face disappearing

into the deep beneath. Some fury

of refusal possessed me—no, not here,

no, not now, no, no—possessed me to poke

my frozen fingers at the frozen buckles

savagely till they gave, the vest broke

away like a parachute and I ducked

myself madly ass over end, kicked, felt

the burden of my clothes, my shoes, the skull-

crushing cold, I came to him, saw him still

sinking, still, like a statue in the dull

filtered light, a waxen head with arms raised

as if in blessing, or forgiveness, or

surrender, blank bewilderment, a dazed

emptiness, limply sinking. I lunged for

his wrist, latched on, kicked hard, up, clumsily

tugged him up toward the light, up, I clawed

for the light, lungs heaving, up, suddenly

broke the surface, gasping violently—by God

he breathed too, coughed up water, breathed again.

Dad! I sputtered. Are you okay! He nodded

dully, eyes half shut, lay shivering when

I draped his arms across the gently bobbing

hull, hooked the frozen claws of his hands

on the upended chine just as the roar

of a motor approaching fast, a friend

appeared (the man who ran the music store

in town), he’d seen it all, revved his ski-boat,

rescued us. I don’t seem to recall how

we ever managed to get warm, how we got home—

another thing we never talked about.

The Brace

I was afraid to look at it, afraid

to touch it. The cold steel plate that mapped

the curve of his torso, the canvas straps,

buckles—when it was invoked, I obeyed.

It scared me more than the scar itself, neck

to tailbone, the incision and the sutures,

a faint pink highway of pain. I knew

the story: Montana, a horse, the wreck.

He never complained—not to me. He’d say,

“Maybe you can help me . . .” and Mom would add,

“Or does your dad have to put on the brace?”

As soon as he died she threw it away.


A music man, my father—always whistling,

singing, mastering the flute. He did

it all, loved it all, called it his ministry

—a true amateur, even amidst

his gleaming instruments and X-rays—dentist

was just his day job.

                                  Evenings were

for practice—lessons, band—and Sundays meant

mass, incense and bells, and God must have heard

what all of us heard: he sang for his soul

in a thunderous baritone.

                                           Even better

than the hymns and churchly rigmarole

were Gilbert & Sullivan shows. He let

me tag along—Mikado, Ruddigore,

Pirates of Penzance, Patience, Pinafore.

His favorite? Hard to say. He cut a dapper

figure as a commodore, was paired

with the handsomest matrons, doffed a cap

like he did it every day.

                                       In the glare

of the footlights he found reality

in make-believe, his face behind the makeup.

When they did The Mikado he’d be

Pooh-Bah, Lord High Everything Else, never break

character, ever so pompous, so stern,

so silly. He had it all in him.


bellied and berobed, he took his turn

with eyes painted Japanese, high plains style.

He sang while assuming a sumo stance,

and brought down the house with his Pooh-Bah dance.

I saw all the Patience rehearsals, sat

in the back of a drab, musty old gym

while the prairie howled outside.

                                                        Maybe that’s

when the notion first took root, in the dim

confines of adolescence, childhood’s winter,

that poetry is ridiculous. Night

after night I took it all in: the thin,

simpering figures of poets, their tight

velvet knee britches, their lavender-scented

hankies, their frilly cuffs. No one laughed

harder than I did—I got what it meant.

But my dad was a dragoon, a man after

all, and that’s how I learned that men wear swords—

something to sing is the whole point of words.

for my father

Michael Fleming was born in San Francisco, raised in Wyoming, and has lived and learned and worked all around the world, from Thailand, England, and Swaziland to Berkeley, New York City, and now Brattleboro, Vermont. He’s been a teacher, a grad student, a carpenter, and always a writer; for the past decade he has edited literary anthologies for W. W. Norton. (You can see some of Fleming’s own writing at:

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