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.
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.
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.
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,
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