We spent the summer
playing whiffle ball in the old potter’s field.
Every few days, a father set the weeds on fire,
fathers who used a loud voice & stony hands
to teach you the value of gratitude.
For bases & home plate,
we gathered broken birds & sharp objects,
filler that smelled bad & drew blood.
We played late, the oaks
heavy with starlight, bushes teeming with fireflies.
One morning we emerged from our shotgun row,
field still smoking from the previous night’s blaze,
odor of gasoline hovering.
The town griever was dead,
slumped under a red maple by the rectory.
I agreed not to tell.
I agreed not to scream in my sleep.
We pinched the dead griever’s lips,
we pulled his penis out of his pants.
Next day, the corpse was gone,
the field marked off with wire,
cops lined the street,
uniforms pressed, their guns glinting in the sunlight.
Mr. Edney sang a forbidden song,
Mr. Bishop fell to his knees & set his own house on fire.
Through August & mid-September,
our parents doused their regrets with blackberry hooch,
long, teetering prayers at the kitchen table.
We waited our turn,
a brooding New Year’s & murderous July.
We owned fields & houses & destroyed them,
our children owned fields & houses & destroyed them.
For generations we’ve said, the fire stops here.
We say a lot of things.
John Amen is the author of several collections of poetry, including Illusion of an Overwhelm, finalist for the 2018 Brockman-Campbell Award, and work from which was chosen as a finalist for the Dana Award. His poems have been translated into Spanish, French, Hungarian, Korean, and Hebrew. A staff reviewer for the music magazine and website No Depression, he founded and continues to edit The Pedestal Magazine.