Selected by Alexis Rhone Fancher, Poetry Editor Emerita

John Amen: “Conjugal”


for KP

If you haven’t figured it out yet,
this is a portrait of the man you married,
who hovered above his own body,
clutching his invisible horn. After
words & blurbs & the ash-house,
you found his favorite fanfares under the
couch cushion, the living-room carpet.
You swept them up, boiled them,
pinned them to a corkboard for safekeeping.
Next day, you heard mad wings
fluttering on the other side of the house.
Is that you? you said, tossing the sheets,
bolting toward that power flash. & he
staggered, as if at the end of a hallway,
dashing yellow notes on your backsplash,
unspooling his crescendo as the sun rose.
You married an invisible man with an invisible horn.
You waited for him to find his body,
find his music, you doused him with arias.
You danced in your white gown beside a window
as he floated in the rafters. Slapping
his invisible horn, he buckled
on his bad leg, tangled, stranded in that
hallway, lost between jilted rooms.

He was strung by his father, tuned
by his mother. He won a contest
when he was a boy, it shoved him into cold chairs,
a measure he never found his way out of,
scales, flourishes, missteps that led to silence.
His horn fell asleep in its case.
He slapped it & slapped it, but it never woke.
He was a boy, the wrong people whispering in his ear,
a boy who heard the music calling, it sounded like a
stranger being abducted in a van, the scream
growing fainter until the van was gone,
the scream was gone, he played his winning refrain
on his invisible horn for his imaginary fans
while his cravings dilated in a minor key.
He blew & blew into his invisible horn,
asking you to carry the music he couldn’t wake,
to applaud him, lost in a hallway.

You said you could feel him
clanging between molecules,
you could hear him more glaringly
than when he mumbled barefoot through the kitchen,
dragging his solo behind him.
He was married to you, but he
borrowed his timbre from an exiled muse,
leashed himself across the floor,
that shuffle at three in the morning.
He fiddled with knobs on the stove,
sorrow reeking of poppies & garlic,
hurled steak knives & a grater into the microwave.
He shattered a vase, stamped a red arpeggio on the tan carpet,
an inky coda on the kitchen wall.
One neighbor said: it sounded like a snare drum.
Another neighbor said: it sounded like a muffled bell.
He was married to you, he stood
in a hallway, hands wrapped in gauze.
He played an invisible horn as bullheaded light
crashed through an open window.
Your phone kept ringing no matter
how many times you answered it,
the great fires began to burn.


cover of Illusion of an Overwhelm by John Amen
Illusion of an Overwhelm by John Amen

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