Session One Anthology
MENTOR: PAUL TRAN
Ode to a Monthly Unlimited Metrocard
Oh, marker of mobility, emblem of membership in the MTA elite, how remarkable
to find you waiting each morning in my wallet, gleaming like a god who grant
access, bestows grace in 30-day stints. Gold as a stolen trophy, with that majestic
stroke of data-storing black, so that with every swipe a tiny screen extolls the many
days of freedom that remain. I point to you as polyester proof of my intrepid striving,
my at last arriving. No more scavenging loose change from out-of- season jackets, no
rationing my single bills to last the week, not since you declared me card-carrying,
complete. You testify to my tenacity. I celebrate your flexible plastic, my darling, for
I, too, am durable, and unashamed. I have stood stranded by the turnstile until the
kindness of a stranger let me through. Now that I’ve got you, even the once-familiar
system map no longer reads the same—the lines flow like colored rivers of infinity,
the circles hover like planets within reach. Oh, thin slice of stability, I cling to you like
a slim chance. I wave you like a tiny flag. You make me believe I can redeem the years
swallowed by sadness. As if the suffering I thought was good for nothing will one day
make me limitless, my joy paid for in advance.
Sasha Warner-Berry began her writing career at the age of eight when her short story about dancing frogs and unrequited love won first prize in a contest in her hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts. More recently, her poetry has appeared in Muzzle. She is a Cave Canem fellow.
there is no future
only your mother
her sunken eyes
when you go away
again. there is not even you.
you visit six times a year
maybe and we call you
daughter. I work
363 days a year
and am barely father,
there is my broken body.
how did I get here:
in this story?
will you please tell me
if I even want to know?
from oil rigs to gas
stations, taxi cabs.
could I be the story
of oil: dark and dug up
from the earth?
made from dead
at the cheapest price,
and others slowly.
your mother says enough
prayers for all of us
to at least glance upon
one door of jannat.
she runs on duas,
the way my taxicab
runs on people
who don’t take uber.
every day a stranger
tells me good bye.
Angbeen Saleem is a poet who works for a civil rights organization in the Deep South. She played Othello once in a high school English class. She hails from the jawn that made jawn happen.
Ghazal for June
Blood and smoke rise again from
that land we bled and burnt for, what bed
brings such trauma that we wake, but will
not leave the fire rather stay bed
ridden, holy house smitten with red
envy, looking for new martyrs to bed
I search this city for a sobering
song, body done with broken beds
My body is broken by ecstasy,
I need feathers for this chest, for this bed,
the city it holds, its warmth a
haunting summer eve I forget the bed
I was born in, but I think the one I will
die in will look like a nation in bed
With sleep itself, smiling as a whole
history is crowned and put to bed.
Hazem Fahmy is a poet and critic from Cairo. He is currently pursuing a degree in Humanities and Film Studies from Wesleyan University. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Apogee, HEArt, Mizna, and The Offing. In his spare time, he writes about the Middle East and tries to come up with creative ways to mock Classicism. He makes videos occasionally.
Negative capability is the capacity of a person to love
someone without knowing how, or why, or when and if
it will end. It is the stringent belief in needless reciprocity,
of open palms and parted lips.
It is the unknown time of the explosion; people
about their daily lives when suddenly
being buried alive by ash; the butt of your cigarette
carving a hole into the world, heart spurting lava
and blackened skies baking with the wails
of those left in shuttered homes, unable to outrun the
diverging and converging tectonic plates below,
earth moving invisible to the eyes of this body but visible
to the person who looks deep into the cavernous magma
chamber, crusted planet that holds it all together, for
the dogs and the trees and the howling babies to crawl
forth on and live; below a universe all its own, archaea
and microbes, strange beasts living within a solid rock underground
It is to know that I am certain. Of being uncertain.
To hold someone dear, without knowing if the glass will
shatter or if the house will hold.
Sarah Patafio is a freshman at Barnard College in NYC, where she is majoring in American Studies. She has been published in Phosphene and Canvas; her future plans include writing many more poems. Sarah's hobbies include reading, writing, drinking tea, knitting, and going on walks in dog parks with the lovely MTD.
You once wrote your name at the top of my workbook page
to prove to me that Ch- can sound like shhh. That year,
I was all loose nickels and tire swing frizz,
gnawing on words snatched off their pages,
beaming at anyone who’d praise the sinew in my teeth.
You were a bit older. You did not fuss when I
seized the pencil from your hand, pressed an S
over your C. I knew the letters of the alphabet
by then. The songs they sang when married. This world
I was winding into had to try harder to play me.
The night a neighbor boy found a beetle curled on his porch,
I knelt and told him it was dead. A word that spun
in his little mouth, stained his tongue sugar-blue, until you rushed
forward and said to him, No, he’s sleeping. He’s a tired bug.
Your voice the last layer of soil patted down. And I glared
at your ponytail fringed with flyaway hairs.
Trying to chew and swallow the offense, entirely
unacquainted with the cancer taking its first bites
of you, reaching for more across a table years wide.
How do I roll over these things so slowly?
I’ve memorized a handful of synonyms for “sorry.”
I switch to a new word when the old one can no longer
climb free, when it crouches on a knoll inside of me and mouths
its own name. Everything must be buried. Even the sun
has pallbearers—we brought it down on walks back to whining
screen doors, our hair big lanterns of ink.
I keep wishing I had buried that word. That instant
when all of the lightning bugs in the yard floated
deliberately where they were, a flickering
procession only you saw. Long after that night
and the bug and even you,
in the summertime, my garage swells with chirping
crickets. Sometimes their lullabies wilt
to dirges. Early the next morning, I seek out the one
on his back, his barbed legs fixed mid-encore. I carry him
to the green edge of the bushes and arrange him
sideways in the fescue. Raise a finger chilled with dew.
Say to no one, Shhh.
J Hiba graduated from Emerson College with a BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing and currently works at W. W. Norton & Company. Born to an Arab father and a Black & Native American mother, her poetry often confronts the wonderful, intricate, and often alienating conditions of the multicultural self. Afterhours, she is a spoken word tadpole and roommate to many, many cats.
I think, if I could,
I’d be anything else
in this world.
Mimosa pudica, my leaves
closing when touched.
I’d go back to 1729,
take for shelter the awful
crypt my master kept me in
with only enough water
to last between his visits,
during which he spoke
not to me but about me,
as though I lacked
a mind, an appeal for
fellowship or feeling.
I’d go back to him,
a shadow slithering
in the dark. His eyes
burning like two moons
monitoring a realm
where nothing exists,
where everything was
destroyed. Both a problem
of imagination. Obsessed
with the nature of things,
my master observed that
even without knowledge
of sunlight, true day
and true night, I sensed
my proper sovereign
in heaven and served
the source of my life
by rising and bowing
with heliotropic devotion,
unfolding and folding
according to its will.
I’m sure he hated me
for that—an expression
of bridled consciousness,
circadian rhythm—for I
hated that too. Yet I made
him famous. His name
written down in
history. Beware of me.
I who survived
I who felt the fire of stars
despite this lonely toil,
locked away as he played
god at his wet bench,
seeker sullied by all
he seeks, his ego
passing as affection
lavished upon his other
houseplants: a seat
on the sill to bathe in
shafts of gnat-swarmed
August, happily startled
by my unremarkable nudity,
my face in the window.
I’d go back to punish him
with clarity. What he did
to me he did to himself
because it was done to him
and to that which did it.
We suffer as our sovereign
suffers, forsaken as far
as the eye can see, the cost
of seeing and being seen.
Paul Tran is a Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. Their work appears in MTV, Prairie Schooner, The Cortland Review, RHINO, which gave them a 2015 Editor's Prize, and elsewhere. A recipient of fellowships from Kundiman, VONA, Poets House, Lambda Literary Foundation, Napa Valley Writers Conference, Home School Miami, Vermont Studio Center, and the Conversation, Paul is also the first Asian American in almost twenty years to represent the Nuyorican Poets Cafe at the National Poetry Slam and Individual World Poetry Slam, where they placed Top 10. Paul lives in Brooklyn, where they serve as Poet-In-Residence at Urban Word NYC and Poetry Editor at The Offing.