JOHN AMEN                      

The Ontology of Dying

And round about his home the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story

          --Edgar Allan Poe,
          "The Fall of the House of Usher"

Daily the blueprint waxed more labyrinthine;
convoys of trucks wound through the ravaged plot,
delivering colossal spools of wire, miles of virgin pipe,
rare timber from Amazonian forests. Expense
grew like a tumor. Electricians, plumbers,
carpenters scurried like slaves in a concentration camp.

I let them build it, watched like some ancient Greek who,
crashing the chamber of The Fates,
observes his own destiny being woven.
Board by board, floor by floor, like a scientist
creating a clone, they erected the house, despite the moon’s demurral.

For weeks, I wandered its autogamous maze of corridors,
jamming empty rooms with gewgaws, ottomans,
divans, plush wardrobes, and impenetrable tomes.
By diurnal light, I loitered in the garden, watched the landscape
flex its muscles like a rabid dog stretching a chain.

The boxwoods grew in perfect orbs, antiquating the gardener’s shears.
Roses bloomed, untouched by worm or beetle,
standing in perfect rows like Nazis at attention.
Azaleas, camellias, and gardenias blossomed in perfect proportion,
emitting ambrosial redolence, immune to the temptation of overgrowth,
requiring neither pruning nor cultivation: the apotheosis of purity.

Tourists came by the busload to gaze upon the architectural
wonder; aspiring poets paced in rapture, scribbling dithyrambs
with Dionysian facility. I conducted tours, flinging wide
doors to my most private chambers. Engrossed strangers
ogled my treasures and trinkets with a smutty awe.
Winter never came.

The house, as sterile as an operating room,
sanitizing its own guts like a self-cleaning oven,
required no maintenance. The sentinel of the sun, never questioning
orders, yielded its watch to the night without the protestation of dusk.
Midnight felt as safe as a bed, was as quiet as a convent.
The teeming Eden, with its inexhaustible prowess, preyed upon me like a
As I grew pale and my appetite waned, wisteria bloomed more fervently.
The walls of the mansion shone like an infantâ’s scrubbed cheeks.

I flipped through thousands of pages of unintelligible works
like a philologist trying to crack a code; I hurled vases,
mirrors, cups, plates, and grails upon a floor of stone.
They were unbreakable. I rushed into the courtyard
armed with a chainsaw, the grinding teeth soon
gnawed to silence by bronze stems and steel limbs;
cracked the skull of an ax on a trunk made of iron.
I wept like a prisoner in a sound-proofed cell,
screamed out in the night like an atheist in a riptide.

One morning, my arms and legs finally shed like withered petals,
my body sculpted into reptilian litheness by the chisels of time and
I slithered down marble steps, across plush carpets,
through a malaise of rooms into the garden,
where the maniacal sun greeted me like a spotlight on a guard tower.
As I crossed the boundary of the estate, like an inmate cutting through a
I heard the crowd, behind me, pounding on the golden door.
I didn’t look back. I crawled on my cavernous belly until I reached
a nameless place where clouds eclipsed the sun, where I was soaked by rain;
where autumn arrived and green leaves browned; the restless sap
swallowed its song; the creek’s throat froze over; the night was filled

Like an exile, I set up camp there, burrowing into the earth,
subsisting on rodents, berries, husks. Seasons arrived and
departed like gurus. I evolved toward a certain complacence,
like that of a flash of lightning content to foil
the monologue of thunder.



John Amen's poetry and fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in various publications, including The Drunken Boat, Sidereality, 2River View, Samsara Quarterly, Disquieting Muses, and Branches Quarterly. He has performed widely as a musician, both as a solo act and with a band, and has released three recordings, Wild but Willing, Eat Mine, and Four Forty Four. His first book of poetry, Christening the Dancer, is scheduled to be released in late 2002.He is editor in chief of the online literary publication The Pedestal Magazine, URL