John Amen


self-portrait in february

for pj

the root sees all
sobbing in the wet darkness
—I know that lament
fisting in my bed of quills

the fool in the suburbs
still defacing museum walls

I apologize
not working between the lines
but here’s the painting my envy
yr personal ink blot suicide


self-portrait advent of autumn

for janet buck

a week before the agents raid yr castle
announcing a moratorium on favorable rulings
you find yrself sketching yr alter ego
from descriptions fed to you at a rapid pace
by mentors turned abruptly hostile

the deacons say you’ve been seduced by pride
recommend that you sit in a cold room & shiver
until the model with perfect teeth hands you a pink slip

it’s yr usual defense to curse the gears
the way the engine cracks its knuckles
you swear yr strings will snap any day now

but is it worth creating a scene?
inducing a miscarriage so to speak?

you’ve abandoned one riddle for another
you’re playing yr part
until some sensitive god on a fast track
singles you out for yr 13th labor

you can only accept to the extent
that you first resist
so please



for df

I’d like nothing more
than to sink into a warm amnesia
but this isn’t on the docket for me
the next thing & next thing
rising like a cattle prod

gauging causal relations helps me feel anchored
prime mover adrift in a cul-de-sac
hand reaching towards a doorknob
this is putting it obliquely

push one foot forward into the hallway
knock a few portraits to the floor
leave muddy prints on the carpet

there’s no traction when I’m like this
full of chains & politesse
even the ape my father
couldn’t blow open the books



fuck the mall
give me the sky

something’s building here
I tell you it may not explode
it may not come forth

but these are hands that deliver cities
they’re divining rods

men with forklifts
daydream beyond their usual cranes & crates
& later some new hook will sound

the girls in the window
turn to crones
turn to numbers
in a single season

it’s impossible to explain
so much cargo strapped to my wings

what we’re given
the streaks across the sky
& what we’re given


John Amen is the author of three collections of poetry: Christening the Dancer (Uccelli Press, 2003), More of Me Disappears (Cross-Cultural Communications, 2005), and At the Threshold of Alchemy (Presa, 2009). His fourth book, The New Arcana—a multi-genre collaborative work co-written with Daniel Y. Harris—was released by New York Quarterly Books in October 2012. His work has appeared in numerous journals nationally and internationally and been translated into Spanish, French, Hungarian, Korean, and Hebrew. In addition, he has released two folk/folk rock CDs: All I’ll Never Need (Cool Midget 2004) and Ridiculous Empire (2008). He is also an artist, working primarily with acrylics on canvas. Further information is available on his website: Amen travels widely giving readings, doing musical performances, and conducting workshops. He founded and continues to edit The Pedestal Magazine.


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MadHat, Issue 15, Winter 2013-2014