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

James Wolf

An Act of Kindness

We are not who we say we are. We have severely failed to provide anyone the opportunity for fulfillment. Stethoscopes, ballet slippers. Crayons, pastels, and fingerpaints. A floor riddled with exit wounds, the foundations quenched by spilled milk. Ironically, you can’t hear all the shouting pouring out from the four walls of this tiny universe. He said, she said, she pushed, he fell, no he didn’t—bit by words more fanged than the mouths from which they came.

I’m starting to mistake our voices for gunshots. Please stop pulling so many triggers at once.

We take small steps. Less like who we say we are, less like who we should be. Unsteady if we’re lucky, fumbling backwards, awkward and accidental. Still no control over the momentum we generate for ourselves, surprised by all the tumbles (seeing the forest for the upside down trees might be all the perspective we’re going to get).

I have propped myself up on siblings who might still be bruised from my own growing pains. I have fashioned spare limbs from the words of friends who indulge me in moments of nonsense. Today, in the tenuous safety and dusty nebulae of four walls, I tried to put on McKenna’s coat (she’s two; she loved it). Tomorrow, I’ll teach an eight year old wrist locks. There may be bruises. There will never be shouting. We are more than that. That’s not who they deserve to be.

And that’s not who I will let them become.


Dear, (and from the start, written with too much heart, a clumsy greeting, and the deepest sense of don’t in his chest)

I wish you’d stop reading books like crystal balls as if they could foretell your future. As if the crinkled mirrors they contain aren’t worth gazing into (look at all that gorgeous lettering—you could mistake the lines of your face for typography). Your reflection should fall apart at the monument you are, despair whenever you walk away. Most people don’t remember what wild, wonderful faces they made seeing how beautiful they were for the first time, but somehow we grow up learning that our only value lies in our reflection? Who looks at ANYONE and thinks well, aren’t you hideous? Listen (and when I say listen, I mean you steady your shaking everything, twist your expression into something uncomfortably spectacular, like your first reflection, and find this letter like a mirror).

When I say every experience

is the same kind of overlap you find

in all of those pages you turn.

You offer up so much of yourself to their pleas,

and they need you to forgive.

(What is forgiveness?)

When I say covering declarations

of your beauty

with too many adjectives

would weigh it down.

When I say this won’t last. Every word is truth, regardless of your own admission or the escape routes you’ve considered. Those hollowed caverns in your chest stand on scaffolds. A lesser body would not carve out the walls of its own future, or push deeper in despite fear of collapse.

You are a monument.

To Tiger

You have thumbtack claws. A roar that travels in circles. Sometimes, simply standing near you is to place my head between your jaws. It’s no metaphor—I’ve felt teeth. You wouldn’t be the first to nip at a provider, back bristling for the contest as the two of us inch the volume up on our growls, snarling warnings and tweaking the slant of brows into granite intimidation. Yours is a force set to self-destruct as easily as it could demolish. A cub behind bars, steadily adding to a collection of scrapes both reckless and incidental. All that thrashing, all those tears.

Are you okay? You have thumbtack claws. I swear I see them dragging tallies through the dirt most days, trying to puzzle through a maze of steel wire. We all do it, or so I hope. Some scope out finish lines and sprint, others are heavy-footed with little foresight. You just had the 1 in 80 chance of being forced to navigate in the dark, not to mention the collision of echoes that comes with it. There are stretches—days, weeks—when they can only sit back and watch you take the same right turn over, and over, and over.

So there’s whiplash. Eruptions. Things come to blows. I keep tripping on the line between hug and straitjacket.

“Tiger, stop!”

“Ooops,” the tiger says. “Tiger is sorry.”

Two beasts, mangled, panting, fur in knots. The linoleum is hard on both of us, emaciated as we look. Why doesn’t this ever end up on the carpet?

“Read to tiger?” But tiger reads to me, and I find myself wondering which of us is more comforted in this moment, hoping that we are both stronger for it.

(Time and Teeth)

Count teeth like oak rings


mouth of a lion,

freshly satisfied


with all its heart set on showing off

what came before, or how much is left.

I dont really know if an extra year means much

until you get to the last one.

“Look at all the shit I should’ve done by now,”

hours questioned,

breath withheld.

Someone hasn’t given you enough attention.

Up until now, I’ve only been crawling. The arms shift, the legs rock one after another, limbs so careful to keep you balanced and on track. Someone put Big Bird on a coffee table, six inches out of reach. He’s soft and grinning, and that plush beak is teething’s best friend. Scratch that, second best. The dog strolls by. Greetings in kisses. Gaping, toothless jaws from the both of us, indulging in sensory overload.

Hey, help me out here.

Watching, blindly

the clock at midnight.

And a voice that makes noise loud enough

for the ghosts of cathedral towers

to remind us

this day, we give it a lot of weight. That we aren’t


Not yet. I still have so much to do.

I’m getting old.

I’m too young to understand what that even means.

Death on the lookout,

vague sense of medical vigilance,

financial necessities,

who I have been,

and who I will be.

I spent a lot of time with that dog. Now I chew things over longer than I probably need to. Before today, I had a major at a university. Rewind some more, find me braver than I know myself. (“Meet me here this afternoon. I’ve got a surprise for you.”) Decisive moments, late nights with friends (growing security in dank smells), sleeping on roll-out mattresses with no a/c. Nostalgia is just the reminder that we are already living. Ageless, beautiful rows of moments strung together out of sequence like teeth lining the jaws of a lion.

That grin alone forms lifetimes.

Aspiring teacher and sometimes writer, James Wolf was born in Anchorage but raised mostly on Maryland’s eastern shore. He has a degree in Early Childhood Education and works as a teacher’s assistant in a pre-kindergarten class, using the quiet of naptime as an excuse to write things in the dark. His work has been featured in “GFT Presents: One in Four” and, with some luck, will eventually find its way into more.

Dotted Line