Oak Mask

Brandon Amico

The tree grew through and around my chest.
I was here; bones taking on rain, taking on sap
and dirt and today, an axe. Yesterday and all
days before, a spooling yarn of night—today,
the axe’s glint. You who freed me, form me.
Teach me how to be shaped, to eat the small
things scurrying at my feet. How to be touched
and not open. Your giving palm: whetstone
rough. Bleed when you lick your fingers clean,
scent the market with rust, gears and nuts
of small talk clack off the lumber, your trade.


    You, whose father worked the plant
that is now a mausoleum.

    You, who smoked the law school applications
your mother insisted on.

    You, decked with the upkeep of fishing boats
that’ll one day be your own, your father

    the clergyman, your father
the tinker, man of letters,

    your mother the oracle,
soldier, accountant, the barkeep.

And you:

The night: a barrel to catch your vomit.

Combustion shoves you along to the next fuel.
Your breath aflame with whiskey, pockets
twin engines of lack, spinning into themselves.
Your body the harvester, the moon a scythe
rushed across your eyes. Your arm the simple lever.
What god speaks in the blackness before me?
Wherein my name is a blade and my mouth
may open itself.


I ask why your hands are rough and a job drops
from your mouth, rolls and picks up grit downhill,
brown snowball of lice and mica sparkling
in the wan light. Teach me value. At the market
shoppers open purchases with their teeth. Lick the dew
off their quarters. They part their lips and pollinate
each other. I hear one’s teeth click against another’s.

Practicing the motions, my face scolds me. Ice
twists through the grains of this growing, wood
has not finished softening into my features.
I seem to myself not myself and I remind
everyone of their lost child. Just a little; enough
to give pause but not so much they can look away
in time.


    Your mother the plume, your
father the grandfather of debt who kicks

    stones out from the loam or
maybe now just spits them up

    to the topsoil. What is your land
but a body you keep kicking

    back into red fits of life, what
is a home and what do you grow there?


Hand learned to seek my throat, now
what will you do that you’ve set me
to sing, sing, sing, these pipes wound
through my chest, these en-fingered cymbals
I carry. I don’t understand the shoppers,
the sounds they make to themselves as the peaches
and dates slide onto their tongues. Wind juts
from their mouths but no song creases their lips.
Their hair resists the breeze. The lotus roots
lie aghast on the counter.


I’ve swallowed the tools that gave me voice,
I watch the men and women walking, they lead
with their heads, their sharpened eyes and noses
direct them, I look where they’re looking and spin
on my dumb heel—where is the Carpenter?


Something is growing legs beneath my throat.
It rains, but only when I blink. I swell, ripen,
and the sun mewls like an infant over the hills,
launching into the wide arms of its father. Someone,
hold me. I think this body is broken.

Brandon Amico is from New Hampshire. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Baltimore Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Hunger Mountain, Sixth Finch, Tupelo Quarterly, and other journals. You can visit him at www.brandonamico.com.

You’ll find biographies for all contributors to Phoebe 43.2 here. 

One Reply to “Oak Mask”

  1. […] thanks to Poetry Ed. Darby Price and the kind folks at Phoebe for including my mouthful of a poem, “Oak Mask,” in their online Spring issue. The poem was a finalist for the 2014 Greg Grummer Poetry Award, which I’m still kind of in […]