City highways take the future
around the bend of the river
of money. Women assume further control.
The next human world aims its nuclear
torpedoes, as transcontinental jets
haunt the place, taking off and landing
on autopilot. Sons decide they’re daughters,
while the compass spin undergoes
its heavy journey across the charred
proving grounds of spring. Beetles burrow
into trees high up, where winter ends
and may return less often. Alien weather
balloons crack into a dimensionless chill.
Elk herds edge north, as the north pole
down-drains into newly claimed shipping
lanes. Parabolic receivers scan for eyes
of doubt over ends and their means.
Blue-suited company men gas up directly
removed from undead talk of extinctions.
A long hot kiss familiar with liberated
hip bones wavers before the collapse
of procreative love. Forebears continue
to break up and drift off from work shoes
and overcoats. Habits that grew out of fear
into lifestyles refuse to reveal their North
American arrogance in its rainwater
spend-drift street-carried flatness
under shirts and blank-slate asking
for reassurance around petroglyphs
that dwarf the possible ways to feel.
James Grabill’s work appears in Caliban, Harvard Review, Terrain, Mobius, Shenandoah, Seattle Review, Stand, and many others. Books – Poem Rising Out of the Earth (1994), An Indigo Scent after the Rain (2003), Lynx House Press. Environmental prose poems, Sea-Level Nerve: Books One (2014), Two (2015), Wordcraft of Oregon. For many years, he taught all kinds of writing as well as “systems thinking” and global issues relative to sustainability.
Please Hold Your Answers
“…the answer to the future will be in knowing how
to ask the right questions.” –Quentin Hardy
Answers are finished, washed up.
Once the noble deep-sea creatures
who fought until you reeled them in,
now they flop like beached alewives
expiring in the sand and seaweed.
You—did you spend your capital chasing
schools of teasing, thrashing answers,
filling your nets and holds, steaming forth,
unaware that the spoils go to those
with questions, not answers; to those
who ask, Are we asking the right questions?
and other such admired interrogatives?
We stay afloat on whys, a gratuitous
“excellent question!” like a safety vest;
and as for you, weighing us down
with answers, answer, answers,
overboard you go in your cement-shoes!
A corporate suit hooks jacket over shoulder,
marches to a window, turns theatrically
and asks, What message are we sending?
in such a way that boardroom fannies shift
on swivel chairs to stir up yet another question
like morays rooting in the turbid shallows.
Meaning of a Dish Sponge
Your dish sponge—floral-scented,
spanking new, but oh how quickly
it will age from the moment you free it
of its cello-wrap and turn it over,
one side soft and baby blue
the other tough as calloused fists.
How it swigs the suds! Slides like
a lover over porcelain. See it slaughter
the cowering grease!
But soon—so soon—the breakdown;
baby blue goes brown and gnarly;
pots and pans that couldn’t last
one round with Tough Side
easily shred its spavined body; and
finally the stink—Old-Sponge smell
from this simulacrum of its youthful self,
to remind us of our own mortality.
Oh—sorry; but had you never sussed this
meaning? In all the nights you bent your
bones over the sink, hands already shaking
as you squeezed and felt the tears flow?
Outgoing Voicemail from My Ex-Muse
If this is you calling I have to tell you
I’ll be out of town a few weeks
to visit an old friend of mine who
well I won’t lie to you it’s a new friend
who’s been invoking me at a time
when I need the kind of invocation
you once composed to summon me.
Hopeless were your verses, but not
your supplications, all those O‘s
to me so sweet so yearning,
we had a beautiful thing until you
cheapened it with half-heartedness—
no more O Divinely Gifted One
barely an O practically a Hey You.
Perhaps one day that tin ear
of yours will sense the difference
between lute and second fiddle—
which this muse does not play.
Yet I admit
I can’t help wondering where
those pretty Os are going now
now that anyone can see you’ve
been invoking someone else
and probably that imposturing tramp
judging by the even more godawful
crap you call inspired.
Better known for his prose works, including two Book-ofthe-Month Club selections, Arthur Plotnik is a late-emerging poet who has appeared in Brilliant Corners, Rosebud, Harpur Palate, THEMA, Comstock Review, The Cape Rock, Glass, Edify, Off the Coast, Kindred, and several more literary publications. Formerly editorial director at the American Library Association, he was a runner up for the William Stafford Award and a finalist in other national competitions. He lives with his wife in Chicago.
Dynamite Always Brightens a Dumbfounded Winter Day
On the road to the marsh I find
a stick of dynamite, blasting
cap attached. It must have fallen
off a truck. I toss the stick
into a snowbank, retreat
two hundred yards, trigger it
with telepathy. The blast
spews a world-class snow-cloud.
As if a page of music unfurled
in a single huge chord, the noise
astonishes the innocent ear,
leaving a memory of bells.
Nearby trees shrug off their rime
like elegant women undressing.
In a yard a quarter mile away
a pack of retrievers goes crazy.
How did I will such omniscience?
A truck dawdles in spew of fumes
and pulls up beside me, driver
grinning with stainless aplomb.
With honest beer-breath he reports
that the crew heard the blast and cheered.
Dynamite always brightens
a dumbfounded winter day.
The truck maunders on, spewing
a beer can or two. How casual
can explosions be? The ice
on the marsh may have rippled
in sympathy. Maybe an owl
stirred in sleep. Already the dogs
down the road have finished barking
and returned to playing in snow.
The cold pouring down from the Arctic has toughened into a hideous animal that we shouldn’t pet, trust, or feed. Let it forage as it will. Let it growl and claw the pine-trunks. Don’t let it into the house unless you think it’s about to produce a litter. Then, of course, common humanity would require us to shelter it. But I don’t believe there will be a litter. More likely it’s pretending to be pitiful, like the scruffy man who sits in the café all morning staring into his laptop computer without buying anything. Bestial cold will behave in a bestial manner. But it doesn’t conceal its carnivorous instincts. It doesn’t lie about the depth of its cold. It doesn’t strut and boast of conquering creatures more fragile than itself. It doesn’t squat on real estate and milk the poor for mortgages. It doesn’t believe in money, much less waste it on follies to insult the ninety-nine percent. Still we agree that this creature belongs outdoors. Yes, it plants a murky kiss on the kitchen window. Yes, it seems to threaten the deer browsing at our bird feeders. Yes, it whispers brittle little nothings in a language we don’t understand. Let’s just keep it outside, at least for now. I’m confident it will thrive on its own.
William Doreski has published three critical studies and several collections of poetry. His work has appeared in various journals. He has taught writing and literature at Emerson, Goddard, Boston University, and Keene State College. His new poetry collection is A Black River, A Dark Fall.
I am my father’s hardest bullet. Buckshot sperm bored out from the barrel that birthed me. I was born Valentine’s Day, 1989, and every three hundred and sixty-fifth day I have been gifted a bullet of different caliber. They sit arranged on shelves the way a hunter might hang heads, displayed for prize and for valor. But I don’t own a gun. There’s no opposition to this purchase, no great moral dilemma keeping me from exercising what my father calls a Constitutional Right slowly eroding away. There have been mornings where I’ve pondered a purchase, thought “today I’ll buy my first firearm.” I research what I might want, market prices, shooting ranges near me, but I never carry the idea past my front porch. Instead, I often sit and watch my father polish his arsenal, meticulous with each wire-brush thrust, each slow turn of some impossibly small screw. I know the green gun case sitting in our basement is a legacy, one that will be passed down to my brother and I. I ask my father to mark the monetary value of each weapon. My intention is to split our inheritance up by worth, making sure each son receives equal distribution of our father’s collection. This request was met with stern words: they are not, nor will they ever be, for sale.
Ashton Kamburoff’s poetry, essays, and flash nonfiction have appeared with Black Lawrence Press, Rust + Moth, Vinyl, and other literary venues. He served as the 2017-2018 L.D. & LaVerne Harrell Clark Writer in Residence and has received fellowships through The Vermont Studio Center & The Lighthouse Writers Workshop. He currently works as a freight train conductor on the eastern seaboard.
Pops, Dis Playa Need Ta Roll
They leave home singing, return home singing,
iPhones providing a soundtrack to their days
as they overdub the lyrics with an aggressive,
more frenzied version of their own.
But singing is not right, not in the technical
sense of the word, an unqualified misnomer
that would have traditionalists seething
in their graves— sonorous crooners who
devoted their lives to perfecting the range
of their sound; signature vocalists like Holiday,
Pavarotti or even good olé Blue Eyes;
their throats emotive as any instrument.
How modulation of timbre transports
feeling into worlds unknown, even a single
note rolled in glissandro can transfix.
But my boys could care less about that—
music as a vehicle, spiritual medium with
transformative properties. My desire to be
moved lame as the word gobbledygook.
Their base requirement visceral: rap the body
can feel, words that rise defiant, defendant;
brash sentiment carried mostly on the wing
of bass and rhyme. After dinner my son
pimps in his self-affected gangsta: Pops,
dis playa need to roll… I got beats to make
this nigga feel like drippin. Then he thumps
his chest with an inverted peace-sign.
Smiles thinly. Scrolls through graphic
soundbites on iTunes rapping over the top
of his favorites: Tupac, 2 Chainz, Biggie
and Wiz; ownership meant to impress.
He tells me Rock is dead. I think to
counter, wish to tell him he’s got it
wrong, there’s much more to music
than this. But thinking is where
it starts and ends.
This reliance on spiritual balance
A far remove from its initial days
When I practiced The Upanishads in one
Hand and held the braided hose
Of a hookah in the other like an umbilical
Connecting me to the rich omphalos of God.
Meditation a zeitgist in the 80’s.
As the Beatles and Maharishi disappeared
In the rear-view, Wall Street’s
Three-piece-suits loomed king.
But at college I was smitten with Birkenstocks
And the regurgitated vibe of Woodstock,
the lanky TA’s chakra—hipster minyan
To professor So&So of Far Eastern Religion—
That accompanied me across The Quad
After lecture. He made pursuit of transcendentalism
Seem as cool as dropping the needle
On the Talking Heads, a tab of windowpane
On the eve of a Dead show.
But Enlightenment’s novelty wore off
Like a monk’s interest in the secular.
And then the world does what it does
And life did what it did and like
Finding a rhythmic breath
Or frying an egg sunny-side-up,
I finally got the center to hold.
To know then what we know now…
Well, we’ve all heard that one before.
Tony Tracy is the author of two poetry collections: The Christening and Without Notice. He is a Pushcart Prize nominated writer whose poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in North American Review, Flint Hills Review, Poetry East, Tar River Poetry, Rattle, Hotel Amerika, Painted Bride Quarterly, Potomac Review and various other magazines and journals.
“What caravan did the Thousand Oaks shooter [terrorist] come from?”
– Don Lemon (to Trump)
Recent news ended, Terrorists suspected.
Among the frenzied crowd cued
in Harvest Bakery’s lunch line,
a mother’s quietude commands.
Her shoulder-length brown hair frames a smooth ivory-skinned face;
her brown silk raincoat nearly camouflages
her severed left arm carried
invisible like the dead –
like the seen-unseen homeless?
Like the increasing refugees who,
after journalists air their plights, disappear fractured
by the next featured frame?
Faces press upon clay memory –
embed the snapdragon-black eyes
like those of this mother’s adopted
Ethiopian daughter who peers
from behind the silk rain of her mother’s coat – peers
from her perfectly proportioned Nefertiti face.
Peers have taunted her – have demonized
her alleged illegitimacy, yet her mother’s got sand –
Huck Finn’s words spoken
of Mary Jane, kind to all strangers
(kind to all of us new in every moment.)
She has let go.
With invisible arm she marries the dead,
the disenfranchised, the migrants,
the unseen witness. Never choosing between keeping neighbors
or adopting daughters, she says yes to her love-life.
Hugging that yes her child tugs the sleeve hiding
the map of woe bound for imperfect paradise.
by Ann Reed
Ann Reed is a contemplative scholar, poet, and Chinese calligrapher-brush painter. She has taught English Literature and Theory of Knowledge in Malaysia, Ukraine, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and China, where traditional cultures value literature as good medicine. Her postdoctoral research studies the mending arts of Early Modern English and Contemporary Poetry. Her Chinese calligraphy and brush paintings have been exhibited in Portland, Oregon and at the Shenzhen Fine Arts Museum in China. Her poems have been published in various literary journals, one of which won the Fall 2018 Lazuli Literary Group poetry prize.