DISAPPEARING, INC. by Brandon Amico
March 2019, Gold Wake Press
Brandon Amico’s debut collection Disappearing, Inc. tells a story you’re undoubtedly familiar with, because you’re likely living it yourself: told to apply ourselves in the classroom, to pay our way through university, to work hard and get a foot in the door and save pennies for rainy days, the average Millennial is left high, dry, and bitter as sin. For many of us, our childhoods ended in September 2001 when we watched mass murder on live television while sitting in a Tuesday morning math class. We came of age as the stock market crashed and were told the economy would strengthen by the time we graduated from college, that we would still be able to build toward that ever-elusive American Dream. Now, in our thirties, we sit behind our respective desks in the nine to five workplace, watching from our personal screens as the world ends. As older generations blame us for this Apocalypse. A cycle to be broken, yes, but how?
Disappearing, Inc. (March 2019, Gold Wake Press) ponders this vantage point, lamenting equally the past that was with the present that is. Covering topics from capitalism and consumerism to meat production and the plight of the humble honey bee, the poet brings authentic and contemporary language to an ongoing yet timeless question: how does one generation survive—forget thrive—when it must wade through the damage done at the hands of the generation which preceded it? In his opening poem, Amico calls out to those balancing “student loan interest rates and 401(k) projections,” to those who have been told to plan and save for a Baby-Boomer-esque future which can no longer be achieved:
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?
from “Customer Loyalty Plan”
Alongside this no-holds-barred speaker, we attend therapy sessions and are reminded that these fifty-minute hours aren’t practice for budding careers in standup comedy, that making light of trauma is a coping mechanism rather than a cure. But Amico never claims that there is a cure for this darkness, and this is perhaps one of the most reassuring things about his collection; there is comfort in camaraderie, in knowing that one is not alone in their experiences. But, additionally, Amico asserts there is only so much that can be shouted into the void. “Do I retweet myself?” Amico asks in his poem “Nomenclature,” challenging the internal infinities originally proposed by Walt Whitman. “Very well, then I retweet myself. I am finite, I contain only so many thoughts.”
Throughout his collection, Amico zeroes in on digital media, Internet identities, and the “clickbait and switch” to illustrate Millennial hopelessness and disenfranchisement, extracting and interpreting the poetry that lies within these contemporary online mediums. The theme of inevitable monotony through repetition returns in the poem “A New Gun Folds Up to Look Just Like a Smartphone,” itself constructed after a 2016 Huffington Post headline. Line after line, Amico imagines the innocuous items that a gun might transform into: a teddy bear, a car key, a pen, a crane. But with each new line, the reader begins to skim faster and faster, their attention waning. Each line is unique, carefully constructed, and carries weight, but in the face of those that precede them they lose their strength and invoke numbness. This repetition mirrors our collective desensitization toward shootings here in America, where the location and the body count are the only unpredictable components of a headline announcing another mass shooting. The reader looks for the end of this poem much in the way we look for the next massacre to be the last, only to be confronted by the “gun that calls your children home” and reminded that even the places we think safest often contain deadly secrets.
Rather than relying on thoughts and prayers in the face of tragedy, like many Millenials, Amico’s speaker comes to reject religion and places faith not in a gossamer beam of light but rather in the concrete, the physical, the flesh:
[…] all I’ve learned
is to say my body instead of my god. My
body, how I’ve changed, the shell I have made and carry
from place to place on my back. My body, the world
I live in today, full of monsoons and
from “Nothing But”
Coming of age in an era when so much of what was promised has since been revoked, it’s logical that this speaker placed belief in what is inevitable: change and decay. We can no longer plan for a world unaffected by climate change, one that ignores colonialist structures and inequalities based on one’s biology. A high-end vehicle will be washed away in the next hurricane just the same as a jalopy hand-me-down; a Botoxed face will inevitably experience rigor mortis much as one with a more wrinkled topography will. These poems represent a moment in time, and, much like a photograph of another camera’s flash, they capture an era that is at once both instantaneous and everlasting.
Stinging yet witty, Amico expertly balances cut-to-the-bone commentary with humor and dad jokes, using direct language to invite the reader to critique not only the poem’s immediate speaker but the reader themself. “Did You Know you can sell your cultivated loneliness at 2¢/word?” he asks in the poem “If You Like This.” “There’s always somebody looking for People Like You, versatile / in your utility, ubiquitous in your individualism.” Though a study on a moment in time, Disappearing, Inc. at its core is timeless in its observation of perceived originality. Every generation imagines itself be different, unique, that it will bring remedy rather than wrong and be the last ring in a historical ripple effect. We are playing, as Amico writes in “Ozone” a piano that is a bomb, “each generation reach[ing] over the others’ arms, trying to find the perfect pitch.”
It’s crucial to note, however, that Amico takes care in periodically breaking the fourth wall and calling out his own work and its part of this system. The act of reading calls us to stare and review and consume another’s words, to contemplate our own relation to what the writer is describing, to feel what another being, real or fictitious, may have once felt. “It’s just so hard to get to know someone, even if it’s yourself,” Amico laments in “E Pluribus Unum.” We may see ourselves in these poems, critiqued and deconstructed and laid out to dry in an ozoneless sun. So, who do we become from here?
When I was small, one of the older kids on my afternoon bus route convinced me to eat a Warheads candy. I didn’t know what it was, only that it looked like any other sweet that I’d likely enjoy, and I puckered and pursed and cried just a little before the sourness passed and I held out my hand for more. Like this memorable moment, Brandon Amico’s Disappearing, Inc. is a bitter but transformative medicine. He does not mince words and cuts straight to the meat of the matter, turning the reader about face to their own complex humanity through the lens of sarcasm and dark humor. There is such truth within these pages, in the speaker’s vulnerability and willingness to call out imperfection, lies, and misgivings. Each poem is tart and sharp, but they are necessary.
Perhaps, as the cover of this collection invites one to think, there is a technicolor future waiting beyond the start of this black-and-white present, a chaotic sweetness within the sour that grows not beautifully but haphazardly, unconstricted, and follows a definite and outward trajectory. Eagerly, we will await this future and along with it the next installment of Amico’s collective work, whatever it dares to critique. But until then, we will continue to sit on this acrid little stone in the sky, to chip away at our mountains of debt, and to connect with the legion of our one million closest friends as we shout into the glow of a screen’s blue light.
STEPHANIE C. TROTT lives and writes on the southeastern coast of Massachusetts. She holds an MFA in fiction from the University of North Carolina Wilmington and is a former poetry editor of Ecotone. Her reviews and interviews have been featured in the Rumpus, Winter Tangerine, the Adroit Journal, Split Lip Magazine, and elsewhere. Her fiction appears in Blood Orange Review and New South.