John Amen is the author of five collections of poetry: Christening the Dancer,
More of Me Disappears, At the Threshold of Alchemy, The New Arcana (with
Daniel Y. Harris), and, 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. In
addition, he has released two folk rock CDs: All Iíll Never Need and Ridiculous
. Further information is available on his website: He
founded and continues to edit The Pedestal Magazine.

from The American Myths


A camera's wedged between a black son's thoughts,
lodged in his labored breath. The world's a browser 

caching the sins of a black son. Each inhale, he hears 

a mechanical whir, colleagues laugh when he forgets 

his lines. His dead mother's his prompter, whispering

in the wings, shaving her legs in an empty tub, her 

blood streaking the enamel. Hullabaloo & much ado. 

Repeat. Later she lies drunk on the living room floor, 

surrounded by utensils, broken vases, a bank statement. 

When the black son clenches his eyes, he beholds his 

dead mother in anime, her lurid lap dance. He tucks a 

Jackson in her G-string. He's the uncredited blackface,

lip-synching a Jim Crow plucked from the blind pigs

of America. His white father owns a chain of planets

severed from the sun. His dead mother retreats to her 

iron maiden. A black son smokes an IOU to the ink, 

he smokes it for all it's worth, hacking under a globe

of debt—his own or someone else's—that's his forte.


My white father proposes to my dead mother, fireflies
pulsing in the smog. As resident black son, I carry my 

logic on my back, heir to the rood, scattering Jacksons

among the homeless at the strip mall. I'm the exemplary

cavalier, yes mam, no mam, the keeper of the calendar,

trolling for razors & potted meat at the warehouse club.

My white father's incidental without me; true, for now,
he snuffs me every red Tuesday over eggs & headlines, 

but soon, some blue Friday, I'll eclipse him, freeze him

with his own spell, steal back my breath, unloose a golem 

in his ivory-white mansion. Meanwhile I broker a peace 

between the delegates, all white & dead, each hoping I'll 

assume the family business, days filled with foreclosures, 

flipping properties, steering the Super PAC. My parents

aren't married yet, I haven't been born yet. They have no 

idea I'm the ring bearer, riding a mutant gene toward their

radio voices. A black son's story is the same before flesh 

as during flesh: the love he demands is the love he rejects.


If a black son refuses to be a black son, even then

he's a black son, fumbling in the smog, runs errands 

while shouldering a rood—grocery, gas, Americano,

duct tape. His dead mother's thighs crush his rib cage,

she presses her mouth to his mouth, nails shredding his

black skin. He has miles to sing before the dream ends, 

before his dead mother becomes his wife, he mustn't 

be distracted. His white father rages over the buffet, 

my stupid black son, spilling red sauce on his bowtie.
A black son sleeps through his alarm, crawls from bed 

an hour late—vacuum, brunch, porno for the paralyzed.

He needs a dead mother like thunder needs a shotgun,

needs a white father like a dinosaur needs a meteorite.

He's the straw boss gorging on donuts, shaking hands 

in the long white hallway, gagging on his dead mother, 

his white father, pockets thick with undeclared Jacksons. 

Creditors stalk him at the strip mall, his red Gethsemane,

the taxman ties on a bib, the way a real killer can wait.

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