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

Winner of $1000 for 1st-place-voted Poems

Alexander McCoy


brackish boy. looking

to be answered,

a timebomb, born into

where do you come from?

make no mistake, Miami,

like blood

in this war

keep quiet, or else

like a question needs

the tooth-end of a smile or

rebel skin, as in

why are you here?

they smell the brown on you

in the dark.

there are no half-lives, either

learn to kill.


Study this, the cartographer’s map of the face

twenty-two years in the making

much uncharted country yet left to be explored

and you will discover a landscape

with monuments bearing no name, whose stories

are heard ringing down decades of damage—

tectonic plates grinding behind

cheekbones, summer stormclouds caged

inside eyelids, fault lines carved into smiles.

I have buried the faces of sadness

like so many fossils underneath

a million million tons of stone.

Over time the residual bits of shrapnel

will sculpt themselves into a slipcast mask,

they will not let themselves be forgotten.

Behold! a heavy painter’s canvas, a portrait

thousands of layers thick, fresh faces

slipped into like armor.

Do not stare for too long

my truest colors will always bleed

through the cracks of me,

                                              this face,

inherited from a lifetime of dirty laundry

guarded behind dusty closet walls of flesh and bone

from the inside out warped with rot—

I cannot figure out how to keep

the smell of the compost pile

from creeping past my eyes,

these neon lights blinking on and off

Do Not Enter! Do Not Enter! Do Not Enter!


Lately, I’ve mistaken my shoes

for conch shells, only

when I hold them up to my ears

I do not hear swelling

ocean, I hear screaming,

                                                There is nothing left for you here

I can read it all over

fading brick faces

lined up crooked like tombstones.

The soil that once knew life

on this small patch of ground

I thought I could call my own

is now cracked and bloodless,

any familiar faces long since scattered

like anemic autumn leaves.

I am going to leave this place if it kills me.

Ask me what my shoes are screaming now

and they will tell you

Move as far away from your family as humanly possible,

throw your cellphone into the river

that you might have an excuse when you forget to call

leave all of your ironic tee shirts behind

(you won’t need those where you’re going)

Keep going until your friends

are nothing more than old ghosts

haunting all of your stories

(Remember, you are leaving behind a ghost-town,

only none of the inhabitants have died yet)

Keep going until the smell of your house

fades from the lonely pair of jeans

you bothered to pack

Keep going so the horizon swallows you whole,

and you find yourself in a strange land

where the sidewalk has a pulse

where night is not an anvil pressing against your chest

instead, a fisherman’s net loosed over bright millions, shining

Go! Godspeed, you reckless Sailor

In my car I become a satellite.

I treat the solitude of the open sky

as an excuse to see the world,

and the instant I stop to catch my breath

is the instant I drop in a blazing downward spiral

with no safety net to catch me.

Why should I bother inventing my own traditions

when I will only leave them to starve in the homes I bury?

It would be so much easier to adopt them from the cities I orbit.

In the meantime, it’s a long shot to get to Boston,

an endless struggle to get to September,

although it helps to pretend

I’m in the middle of a movie montage,

able to skip right to the good parts

just as soon as the staccato of low string music drops out

So I’ll want to pick a CD at random and pray

for plenty of cello, light up some cigarettes and drive

head first into a horizon beckoning me with open arms

This must have been how Pioneers felt,

winding up the Oregon Trail

towards nothing more than a smiling promise,

walking until they stumbled into a nameless grave,

not because they wanted to

nobody wants to die hungry

but because their legs never gave them a choice.

They would rather die

with blisters on their feet

instead of behind their smiles.

They would have dust coat their teeth

before they would let it settle over their bones.

I am going to leave this place if it kills me.

Although, on the day that I die, when you ask me

if I want to be buried in Worcester, I will tell you

I thought I already was.

Swansong for the Concert Pianist, like

must’ve finally gone deaf to the melody in these hands like

at what point remembering the story of that boy did you

                         condemn him to memory like

                         telling that boy he had a piano player’s fingers, needed

                         to grow into them like

                                    ten wisdom teeth crowding the same jawbone

                                    never telling him they might

                                    wind up crooked

                                    and so loud like

                                                landmines at the ends of both arms like

                                                                       no man’s land, no land

                                                                           for nest-making like

                         finding that boy curled up

                                    inside a stranger’s handshake, looking

                                                for someone else’s hands like

                                                             teach me how to grow old

                                                                                            like you

should’ve taught that boy how to make room

                         for hands like these,

                         sing-sorry hands, stagefright hands, these

                         treat pants-pockets as second skin hands, these

                                                  borrowed birds, strangling themselves

                                                  given a moment alone hands like

                                    these fingers,

                                                were they piano strings,

                                                they’d be worn chords

                                                chorusing the piano’s broken


Questions to Ask a Mountain

My role models are older than most,

world-wise, slow to respond.

I thread questions into cavernous ears,

begging for secrets to whisper up from their veins.

                         You silent towers of stone and years! What

                         is it like to be tall—? to live

                                    with your head in the clouds and still

                                    have enough oxygen to survive—?

                         Where do you find the strength

                         to carry the sky on your back

                         on the nights it threatens

                         to swallow you whole—?

                                    Can you teach me how to stand up straight—?

                                    or else how to carve my spine

                                    out of something stronger than doubt—?

                         Can you teach me how to plant my feet

                         so deep in the Earth I never have to worry

                         about being knocked over—?

                                    how to swallow my anxieties,

                                    crush them into diamonds,

                                    bury them so deep they’re worth digging for—?

I never learned the subtle art

of stillness; to be most solid when

my body is at rest; to stay in one place

long enough to catch seeds on my tongue

and carve my story out of the treebark.

For once, I want a home to grow on me.

                         You ancient titans standing guard

                         over the world like teeth!

                                         Make me into a giant, a force

                         to reconsider, something to look up to.

                                         Give me so much mass

                         to withstand hurricane winds

                                         erupting from the throats of those

                              who would see me eroded,

                         would see me leveled out, see me even, see me

and never even hear me!

My role models are proof the world

grows by inches. Only now

am I learning my echo,

my echo is a gift falling

from their mouths. I marvel

my voice can be so loud,

that my words are worth repeating.

And I will learn to show the world that I am large,

that you need to crane your neck

to see how high am I willing to reach

when I want to grab ahold of the stars

and carry them around in my pockets.

If my shoulders are too broad

for you to walk over, I will not crumple,

an obstacle waiting belly up for the bulldozer.

You may howl until there is no wind

left in your lungs, but you can never

break me all the way down, you will never

grind me into something smooth.

My belly is too full of smoke.

And you will behold me

as I block out the sun

when I open



Alexander McCoy lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.

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