at the office holiday party :: cristin o’keefe aptowicz

I can now confirm that I am not just fatter
than everyone I work with, but I’m also fatter
than all their spouses. Even the heavily bearded
bear in accounting has a little otter-like boyfriend.

When my co-workers brightly introduce me
as “the funny one in the office,” their spouses
give them a look which translates to, Well, duh,
then they both wait for me to say something funny.

A gaggle of models comes shrieking into the bar
to further punctuate why I sometimes hate living
in this city. They glitter, a shiny gang of scissors.
I don’t know how to look like I’m not struggling.

Sometimes on the subway back to Queens,
I can tell who’s staying on past the Lexington stop
because I have bought their shoes before at Payless.
They are shoes that fool absolutely no one.

Everyone wore their special holiday party outfits.
It wasn’t until I arrived at the bar that I realized
my special holiday party outfit was exactly the same
as the outfits worn by the restaurant’s busboys.

While I’m standing in line for the bathroom,
another patron asks if I’m there to clean it.

asylum :: hala alyan

They said burn the keys
but only our hair caught fire.

We walked to the borders
with photographs and letters:
This is where the dying began
their dying, this is where
they knifed the children.

The judges called us in
by our cities. Jericho. Latakia. Haditha.

We swore on a god we never met, to love
the lakes, the ice caps,
one frost after another,

but at night in our dreams
the library burnt,
the pears were still crisp in the pantry.

We waited for our flooded village
to be siphoned, the stone bridges rebuilt.
We ate the house keys with salt.

center of the world :: safiya sinclair

The meek inherit nothing.
God in his tattered coat
this morning, a quiet tongue

in my ear, begging for alms,
cold hands reaching up my skirt.
Little lamb, paupered flock,

bless my black tea with tears.
I have shorn your golden
fleece, worn vast spools

of white lace, glittering jacquard,
gilded fig leaves, jeweled dust
on my skin. Cornsilk hair

in my hems. I have milked
the stout beast of what you call America;
and wear your men across my chest

like furs. Stick-pin fox and snow
blue chinchilla: They too came
to nibble at my door,

the soft pink tangles I trap
them in. Dear watchers in the shadows,
dear thick-thighed fiends. At ease,

please. Tell the hounds who undress
me with their eyes—I have nothing
to hide. I will spread myself

wide. Here, a flash of muscle. Here,
some blood in the hunt. Now the center
of the world: my incandescent cunt.

All hail the dark blooms of amaryllis
and the wild pink Damascus,
my sweet Aphrodite unfolding

in the kink. All hail hot jasmine
in the night; thick syrup
in your mouth, forked dagger

on my tongue. Legions at my heel.
Here at the world’s red mecca,
kneel. Here Eden, here Bethlehem,

here in the cradle of Thebes,
a towering sphinx roams the garden,
her wet dawn devouring.

strewn :: barbara crooker

It’d been a long winter, rags of snow hanging on; then, at the end
of April, an icy nor’easter, powerful as a hurricane. But now
I’ve landed on the coast of Maine, visiting a friend who lives
two blocks from the ocean, and I can’t believe my luck,
out this mild morning, race-walking along the strand.
Every dog within fifty miles is off-leash, running
for the sheer dopey joy of it. No one’s in the water,
but walkers and shellers leave their tracks on the hardpack.
The flat sand shines as if varnished in a painting. Underfoot,
strewn, are broken bits and pieces, deep indigo mussels, whorls
of whelk, chips of purple and white wampum, hinges of quahog,
fragments of sand dollars. Nothing whole, everything
broken, washed up here, stranded. The light pours down, a rinse
of lemon on a cold plate. All of us, broken, some way
or other. All of us dazzling in the brilliant slanting light.

occasional poem :: jacqueline woodson

Ms. Marcus says that an occasional poem is a poem
written about something
important
or special
that’s gonna happen
or already did.
Think of a specific occasion, she says—and write about it.

Like what?! Lamont asks.
He’s all slouched down in his seat.
I don’t feel like writing about no occasion.

How about your birthday? Ms. Marcus says.
What about it? Just a birthday. Comes in June and it ain’t
June
, Lamont says. As a matter of fact,
he says, it’s January and it’s snowing.
Then his voice gets real low and he says
And when it’s January and all cold like this
feels like June’s a long, long ways away.

The whole class looks at Ms. Marcus.
Some of the kids are nodding.
Outside the sky looks like it’s made out of metal
and the cold, cold air is rattling the windowpanes
and coming underneath them too.

I seen Lamont’s coat.
It’s gray and the sleeves are too short.
It’s down but it looks like a lot of the feathers fell out
a long time ago.
Ms. Marcus got a nice coat.
It’s down too but real puffy so
maybe when she’s inside it
she can’t even tell January from June.

Then write about January, Ms. Marcus says, that’s
an occasion.
But she looks a little bit sad when she says it
Like she’s sorry she ever brought the whole
occasional poem thing up.

I was gonna write about Mama’s funeral
but Lamont and Ms. Marcus going back and forth
zapped all the ideas from my head.

I guess them arguing
on a Tuesday in January’s an occasion
So I guess this is an occasional poem.

double springs :: robert morgan

I used to wonder how
two springs could issue from the hill
a yard apart. Why not dig deeper
and unite their flow?

And later realized they
surfaced close from opposite
directions. The southern
sweeter, though the northern’s steady

effluence came cold, even in the dry
months when its neighbor
slacked and almost stood, with
algae thickening the edges.

In the church nearby I’ve heard
sermons on the trinity describe
their separate currents merging to
one branch. The sweet uneven

head rose from the hillside leaning toward
Dark Corner, while the constant
icy thread emerged
from the farm country. In summer

they condemned the slow one and
when I came down to drink before
or after preaching its partner sure
enough ran clear, with ebullition

dimpling the surface above the pores,
and purifying lizards gripped
the sandy floor. But after swilling
there I‘d dip the gourd

into the slightly silty left
embellished now with leaves and spiders
and aquatic mosses for a richer sip.
That ungodly taste I’d carry home.

the tree frog :: c. dale young

It is not the chambers of the heart that hold him
captive, but the hallways of the mind. Why
his image burning green and blue persists
—the face, the eyes questioning, the shape
of his head—is beyond anything I can understand.

What lessons must be learned to overcome
the final act of longing? This morning, sunlight
grasped at everything, but the wind swept
through the streets taking things with it,
even the soul. Sometimes the curtain does not

completely fall, and the play, barely visible,
continues. This much I know. This much
the textbooks have taught us. The blind man
Cervantes built continued to see and saw far
too much, could not accept the utter purity

of Abstraction. But is that not our essential fault?
A tree frog croaks against the backdrop of memory,
and the cold sheets and darkened room return,
but you are not here to whisper me to sleep.
The ocean’s long-windedness offers no replacement

for your voice, anxious the way it could be at night.
What is there to understand? Not the heart, certainly
not the heart that is so easily trained to forget.
Night after night, like the tree frog, I remind myself
who I am, voicing what I cannot voice during the day.