Dotted Line Dotted Line

Poetry Winter 2019    fiction    all issues


Cover Florian Klauer

Meli Broderick Eaton
Three Mississippi
& other poems

Andrea Reisenauer
What quiet ache do you wear?
& other poems

Alex Wasalinko
Two Dreams of Vegas
& other poems

AJ Powell
The Grammar Between Us
& other poems

Emma Flattery
Our Shared Jungle, Mr. Conrad
& other poems

Nathaniel Cairney
The Desert Cometh
& other poems

Sarah W. Bartlett
& other poems

Abigail F. Taylor
Jaybird by the Fence
& other poems

Brandon Hansen
& other poems

Andy Kerstetter
The Inferno Lessons
& other poems

Michael Fleming
Space Walk
& other poems

Richard Cole
Perfect Corporations
& other poems

Susan Bouchard
Circus Performers
& other poems

Edward Garvey
Nine Songs of Love
& other poems

Mehrnaz Sokhansanj
Sea of Detachment
& other poems

Jeffrey Haskey-Valerius
& other poems

Claudia Skutar
Homage II
& other poems

Donna French McArdle
Knitting Sample
& other poems

Megan Skelly
Puzzle Box Ghazal
& other poems

Tess Cooper
& other poems

Greg Tuleja
& other poems

Catherine R. Cryan
& other poems

Donna French McArdle

Because the Serpent


Because the serpent chose which tree,

all knowledge is tainted,

just as ignorance is bliss,

and seeking an answer is lust,

and finding the answer (or thinking so) is pride;

our best and worst the same.

And because Eve chose to hear the serpent,

and not her husband, all marriage

is tainted; even those of us

who vowed can’t obey after

that first delectable, intellectual bite.

Tossed out, we built a wild, ungodly garden

from brambles and mud

and filled it with meadows, motorcycles,

down comforters and silks,

with the sorrow that is love,

with the love that begets our children,

with loss and disease: one of forgetfulness

that empties the mind, another that enters

the bones, and another of the soul;

we imagined these and they were here.

There was death, too. Because Adam

warned us surely we would die,

there were drownings, floods, mountains exploding,

war and suffering. Then we created a nowhere.

Because the serpent, we had to create this

emptiness, this place we could form anew,

for we knew we could be tossed again

as tender green sprouts in an icy wind.

We made it up as we went, not sure

if it would be sweet heaven or sweet hell.


We walked the track of dirt road through a field

overgrown with tall grasses, overflowing with rising heat.

At the pond, we slipped off our sticky clothes, hung them

on a branch and, glancing away, stepped in.

Up to my shoulders, I felt less shy, dressed in reflection

of the trees and sky, and feeling, as I slowly moved

my hands to swim, that kindness of the water

on the muscles and joints. I ducked below. My hair floated up.

Past me, the reeds flowed, following a movement

that forms the bodies of fish and teaches the hind feet of frogs

how to rest as they glide. Fusiform. My hand and its reflection

reached toward each other at the surface.

He and I swam everywhere that summer: in ponds, the river, the ocean.

The water quenched and woke me as the first notes plucked

on a Spanish guitar open the piece and vibrate against each other,

against the moment, against the humidity in the air.

I expected it. I had been waiting for it, but I could not imagine

the fullness of it, the intimacy of sound and splashes of water

and the changes of light that happened daily, constantly.

As I swam away from him, his white shirt and my pale blue dress

rose together in the breeze.

The swallows had come out, dashing just above the pond

where the bugs felt the rise of our warm human expiration and lingered.

They had come to bite us, and the birds to eat them—resequencing

the order of predation. Two birds, one chasing and squawking,

the instigator in front, flew upward toward the treetops,

and the wind shifted the branches, so the sun flashed between,

and the fire of that light swallowed the bird. Its follower

clung to a branch, the wind calmed, and the chattering silenced.

Cast out, above the canopy of maple and oak, that swallow

vanished into the sky of nowhere. I looked upward for him,

but looking stung the eyes, for he was in, and I was near, a haze

of emptiness, which is a daydream where longing is uninhibited.

He remembered the taste of mayfly and mosquito, beyond

body or bite, where they become outlines filled with the pale light

he swam though while I swam through cool pond water.

His tiny heart pounded with his drop or two of blood,

and he drifted low and remembered the shade beneath those branches.

Every story and every whisper between the two of us

anticipated a reply. We wanted paradise complete; I wanted

that swallow to return. But the motion of my hands undid

the perfect reflection on this hidden pond; the world

looked at upside down was brief and vulnerable.

I turned and reached to him, and when he pulled me in

that swallow blasted out from nowhere, and swooped low,

so the feathers on its belly skimmed the water’s surface.


“All paths lead nowhere,” the Yaqui Don Juan taught Carlos Castaneda.

Then Birkin invited Ursula, “away from the world’s somewheres,”

and though DH Lawrence said she was afraid, they drove off

to Sherwood Forest to sleep on a rug under the hood of his car.

But it is Ovid who in his great Metamorphosis reminded us

that Jove can transform you so thoroughly you are lost.

You are a white cow; you cannot recognize the lowing

in your own voice; and your father, whose heart is broken,

weeps that he cannot find you because you are not anywhere.

I Stumble

Because the going is hard—one mile up

Neahkahnie rises nine hundred feet till it levels,

steep enough for switchbacks after the first steps,

heartless enough that after fifteen minutes

into this workout, I doubt I can finish the climb—

I’m breathing hard. Because they call the view religious—

and already I’m doubting—uncertainty unsteadies

my gait, but feet pounding, heart pounding, I walk.

Gerry, our host, says we’re tramping pirate country.

Over northwest are Devil’s Cauldron and Smuggler’s Cove,

but close by, legend has treasure buried.

The kids want it. They want to roll it down this

old, good path. They want to be rich, to buy cars

(though they’re too young to drive), to be so rich

they would drive anyway, to be completely

outside the rules, free, floating, the longing

in their voices both wistful and whining.

I long simply for the trail to end, so when Gerry says,

“This is it,” and pushes into the brush, I follow—

obedient, befuddled, then lost. There is no trail.

We gather ourselves in a field grown nearly

as high as my shoulders (and the kids heads),

surrounded by foxgloves so hot pink

they erase the heat of the afternoon and dry

the sweat on the small of my back.

This is where I am: lulled by the distant

surf, breathing deeply of the soil, the Pacific.

But Gerry turns back, as do the others,

brushing by me. I follow how the pink

spires reconvene after the rush of our party.

This is how I live: gasping, stumbling,

stopping only when I can no longer resist

the shift of light, the tall stalks stilled.

The others call to me from the trail. I follow.

The peak, the real one, a rocky clearing that

faces south, stands 1680 feet above the Pacific,

and on such a beautiful day as this day,

you can peer over Neahkahnie-Manzanita

Park—a swath of green and blue—

and, in the distance, Nehalem Bay empties

into the Pacific, the outlet no bigger than my thumb,

and a crow drifting between here and there

no bigger than a spot on my eyeglasses, and the surf

that churns and grinds, breathing as lightly as if asleep,

quieter than my own breath.

We drink the last of our water and see smoke

halfway down the beach, then flames overcome

the August-dried beach grasses between the sand

and civilization. Helpless this far away, we hear sirens,

see the red pumper truck, and as the flames die, the smoke

blooms, then thins out over the waves. We follow its path,

trying to sight the horizon. “Is it the dark or the white line,”

the kids ask, “where the water ends and the sky begins?

Can our eyes see it?” We adults adjust our eyeglasses.

The Fields

One step in and they came alive

with frantic hopping,

tossed out from my legs

like a swirling skirt,

for the fields of my childhood

were full of grasshoppers.

They called pfft, pfft and launched

into the wind-driven wave

of tall stems. Heavy seed heads

arched over and down in unison,

and the crazy grasshoppers struck

a zigzag against the uniformity

of summer afternoons.

My brothers and I caught them.

I held one between cupped hands

trying to be still enough

to let it rest on my palm,

peeking into the gap between

thumb and fingers. I studied

the red and green markings

on its bigger legs, fed it

a single blade of sweet fescue,

watched its mandibles tear and chew;

and if I could be still inevitably

the grasshopper shat on my hand,

and I wiped it on my shirt.

My mother was always asking,

“How did your shirt get so dirty?”

for the T-shirts of my childhood

were streaked with this muck.

The fields: the unmown lot behind the Breen’s,

the steep-sloped sides and the hollowed center of Fort Lee,

the unused railroad tracks that led from the cove

under Bridge Street toward the river.

Knitting Sample

Her fingers on the yarn, the needles, my fingers,

she adjusted with small movements

the stitches we cast on. My grandmother wanted me

to know the rites, to reveal the patterns of our lives

in the way you wrap yarn into a scarf

worn against a cold morning, against

a season of cold mornings.

She needed to show me how you twist and pull

warmth into your life once you understand

the raveling and weaving,

once you trust the yarn, the story emerges-

a day, then a month, then a life emerges.

She left me alone to it, and I sat there—yarn

in my hand, fantasy in my head, cautiously

forming loops, tapping needles, watching out the window

as a wild bird landed on the picnic table, and a boy

next house over pumped hard on his swing.

When my grandmother came to check on me,

the knitting was a mess, a tornado of holes

from stitches dropped and extra loops knotted

over each other. She counted in disbelief;

given ten stitches I ended with seventeen.

While she saw only flaws, I loved that

wild tangle of my first creation. Then,

because there was no yarn to waste,

my grandmother pulled out each stitch.

They slid apart to her tug and popped slightly

before the tension gave and the yarn fell limp.

My creation would not be delivered to the world;

my neck and ears would suffer the chill

of cold mornings, and I began to learn

the workings of the pattern I would follow

for many years: attempt and dismantle, come home

and leave again, find a way and lose it, wake and

fall into a deep sleep and dream

of the squeak of that boy’s swing

and the bird flying away.

Donna French McArdle is a writer and elementary school writing coach north of Boston. Her poems have appeared in the anthology, Lost Orchard, and in literary magazines, including Wilderness House Literary Review, Prairie Schooner, and Antioch Review. She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. This is her second appearance in Sixfold poetry; she really likes how the review process creates the publication.

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