by John Amen ((Header art by Vanessa Katz.))
By combining individual character moments and memories with shadow narratives and sly political references (“O white God, is there a real world?”) into a potent, subversive mix, John Amen’s work transcends the lyric to become our own flawed and fractured Epic, our Myth:“Grease & sugar are the gateways to God, but solitude’s the cosmic nipple.”
Inconsolable J, bluer than a harp at dusk,
weens himself a homeless beast, exiled from
the mothership of dirt & sky. O white God,
aid him, crack his bedrock memory, he studies
the nightmare but not its source, perplexed
by envy & vertigo. He cruises the grocery,
mast-bound, palms pressed to ears, scuttled
in the booze aisle beside the fortified wines.
Fire’s a lorelei, & he’s star-struck when it
comes to cash, the cold diva, he can’t wise up,
can’t shake her wiles. O white God, in self-
forgetting all that remains for a man is vanity.
Shatter J’s trance, give him back his early eyes,
music without private rooms, unearth his first
face buried beneath a mudslide of other faces,
that trickster in the glass, his habit of knowing.
Drown his illusions, o white God, ∞ choked
by a name. O white God, is there a real world?
J slurps a diet soda, checking his texts outside
El Paraíso on date night. His wife enters, heels
& orange scarf, witchy in a sable blouse. See
his slang & emoticons blaze, the hootenanny
in his roadhouse groin, how he closes the door
he opens, such is ambivalence. Such is PTSD.
He haggles over refills, the number of shrimp
in his paella. Frustration’s his oldest pal, though
every meal he raises his glass to flow, each
morning a bump & pop to his first port of call.
Forgetting’s his only trick, the one he’s honed,
wings that dissolve without warning. He belches,
regretting his appetite, reflux a familiar dessert.
J revved on coffee, pays the bill, tips the valet,
his .32 whispering from the glove compartment.
Home, he dry swallows three Ambiens, revises
his will & health-care docs, wakes in a flowerbed
unto the white father. When J prays, he plunges.
I know the part, hobbling to the white bathroom
at three AM, clench & release, the bloody enamel,
my white father & his Super PAC cronies nodding
in the observation deck. Dr. Kilgus whets his blade.
Cheers & applause. Tweets & reviews. The click
of the camera. I play the moody artiste. Later I play
solitaire as the cellphone rings. Later I send a text,
my dear white father’s top ten hypocrisies, no one
dares to respond. I pose in the backyard, selfie in
Union blue, dropping a stone for the missing link,
who miscarried in the wings, my mother who died
strapped to a plastic rood, burned during rush hour.
I throw my fav rock at a stranger, who throws her
fav rock at me, all for a love that failed to gestate,
floating in three inches of red water. I solve riddles
& research WWII. I change my gauze, still insisting,
I’m a full citizen, though I’m really just a black son,
enraged when no one answers my unspoken prayers.
I perch when night rises, black hours
stretch like the dead mother’s white legs.
It’s my turn to breathe, house in a coma,
the black son locked in the ham house,
Dr. Kilgus snoring in his mezzanine
as I uncoil my dread on carpeted floor,
examining its fangs by television light,
the glow of cable noir. The fixer, arsonist,
saboteur, by day how they riot, now
retreat & doze to cricket song. I recall
you don’t need accountability to live a
peachy life, be saved by love or curiosity.
The game seems winnable when I’m alone,
the hundred filibusters trailing into silence,
each vagary a direct line to the empire.
Grease & sugar are the gateways to God,
but solitude’s the cosmic nipple. I’m numb
to the wheel, numb to my dear white dad.
John Amen is the author of five collections of poetry; most recently, strange theater (New York Quarterly Books), a finalist for the 2016 Brockman-Campbell Award. His poetry, fiction, reviews, and essays have appeared in journals nationally and internationally, and his poetry has been translated into Spanish, French, Hungarian, Korean, and Hebrew. He founded and continues to edit The Pedestal Magazine.