NEA Literature Fellowships

Brandon Amico

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Brandon Amico

Photo by Nicole McConville

(2019 - Poetry)

"Customer Loyalty Program"

The opposite of not existing
is shopping. I am less the name
given me than my portion
of our nation’s GDP. Student loan
interest rates and 401k projections
tangle on a graph, spurring one another
toward climax. I am my credit score
(777, which means I can afford
to gamble) by way of most common
denominator: the easiest consistent definition
for those who pass me on the street,
who sneeze into my collar, who walk
their dogs like their own sovereign nations.
The main export of dogs is love, because
that’s all we’ll take from them. I withhold.
I charitable contribution. I put into
a MEEK fund so I inherit whatever’s left me
when the wars are done. Take
the whips and minimum gags allowed
by law and say thank you, chew
on the inside of my cheek. I am alive
when restrained, know my body
by what it pushes up against.
I am putting in my dues, stretching
my life out till next week’s paycheck,
and the next; withhold a little bit
every other Thursday until
refund time, that time of year
all the S&M shops dream of, for we buy
new, plastic-smelling gags, we buy leather, 
our own handcuffs. Will the nation
spoon us after? Do we need
SSN safewords? Are we expected to speak
with all this debt in our mouths, and what
would we say if it’s removed?

(First appeared in Kenyon Review, 2018)

Brandon Amico is the author of Disappearing, Inc. (Gold Wake Press, 2019). He is the recipient of a North Carolina Arts Council Regional Artist Grant and the Hoepfner Literary Award for poetry, awarded by Southern Humanities Review. His poetry can be found in journals including The Awl, The Adroit Journal, Blackbird, Booth, The Cincinnati Review, Diode, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Hunger Mountain, Kenyon Review, New Ohio Review, Sixth Finch, Slice, Waxwing, and Verse Daily, and his reviews have been featured by 32 Poems, AGNI Online, The Los Angeles Review, Mid-American Review, The Rumpus, and Southern Humanities Review.

Like with most life-changing pieces of news, I missed the phone call from the National Endowment for the Arts. The same thing happened earlier in the year when a publisher called to tell me they were accepting my debut collection of poems. I’m trying to be conscious of how much of time I spend lost in the universes inside my phone, so naturally when I leave it in another room the important calls start arriving.

I often feel like this—that I’m just a step or two removed from where I need to be, fractured and pulled sideways and lengthwise by competing responsibilities, stimuli, interests, and a news cycle that feels Sisyphean, something designed to grind us down until we retreat to something more comforting.

Poetry thrives because it crystallizes something vital—the mind’s attempts to make sense of chaos, both internal and external. It needn’t provide answers—the emphasis on a clear-cut answer smacks of the consumerism we’re all tethered to, as answers can be packaged and sold (for a monthly subscription rate, most likely). But the question, the act of asking it and engaging our curiosity (or another’s), is crucial and energizing. Especially as today’s chaos is more manufactured than natural, poetry seems the most reliable resource for reaching parts of each other that we’ve closed off either purposely or by forgetting to attend to them.

I am grateful to the NEA for this support—both the relief from some of the mental and logistical burdens of finances, but also the recognition that I am being heard and encouraged to continue. As I embark on my second book of poems, this will be of enormous help to me, and I’m honored to be included among fellow poets I admire so much.