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 I'll Never Need and Ridiculous
. 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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