Arthur Plotnik, Featured Author

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.


Arthur Plotnik

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.


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

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.

Tony Tracy

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

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.

The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara

        “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.

Book of Life

Sister, it’s flooding sunshine. Days drop

like caramels. I turned my back

on you, the hunted dogs

of our girlhood. Here’s the devil

coming from my palm, the mad

raisins and relished dirt. I’m in

the open, the cream soda bad.

Is rubber your only feeling?

Wooded and measured out, you

stomach the untried, the vanilla

pudding that won’t feed you.

Why did you take orders?

A cube of hesitations,

the learned magic won’t leave us.


by Kimberly Lambright


Kimberly Lambright’s debut poetry collection, Ultra-Cabin, won the 42 Miles Press Poetry Award and was published in 2016. Lambright has been awarded fellowships to the MacDowell Colony and Sou’wester Arts Colony; her work appears in Columbia Poetry Review, phoebe, ZYZZYVA, Sink Review, Bone Bouquet, The Boiler, Wicked Alice, Big Bridge, Little Patuxent Review, Texas Poetry Calendar, Not Very Quiet, and The Burnside Review. She lives in Brooklyn.

Breaking News

Mother earth is off the wagon.

According to reliable eye witnesses,

She’s been drinking again:

Hammered on Greenland ice melt,

Falling down drunk from glacial rebound,

Knocked off her axis from mantel convection.


When this reporter confronted her

About her alleged drinking problem,

She denied, denied, denied.

I’m not a drunk, she said.

I’m as sober as a judge

At a high school beer blast.

Hey!  I’m a pop culture celebrity,

A rock star with an agenda.

Any planet can spin on its axis.

But me, I put a new spin on things.  Listen.


Earth vacillates, undulates,

Oscillates, pulsates,

Rattles, rolls and shakes,

Shivers, quivers, quakes.

Ask any social tweeter,

We totter as we teeter.

We wibble as we wobble,

Just a hiccup of a bobble.

We sway as we play,

We’re surreal as we reel,

While twirling and swirling

Out of orbit we’re hurling.

We sprang from the void

In a big bang boom,

To that we’ll return,

Womb becomes tomb.


I swear by the sun, moon, and stars, she said,

And every can of beer I ever drank,

I’m stone sober as I tell you this.


Now there’s a sobering thought.


by Susan Martin

Susan Martin is a retired English and creative writing teacher. She has had poetry and short fiction published in several literary journals and anthologies. Most recently she has had a short story published in Brandt Street Press’ anthology, Dammit I Love You, and poetry published in The Aquillrelle Wall of Poetry: Book Seven, WestWard Quarterly: Summer, 2018, and Blue Unicorn Magazine: Fall, 2018

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