The Triumph of Life
This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features a poem by Brandon Kreitler.
The Triumph of Life
I was on the lam from the little fiefdoms
of nausea and torsion, wanting to be alone
with my tame spiritual themes and watch
the crinkled click-bait leaves twist in series
or at least hear some tuneless wind hum
against the land and its cavities. I was alone
by the river’s slow bend, by the turnoff.
A thin floe was broken through the ice field.
I hoped I’d watch a tanker rumbling down the channel,
like a lone idea bearing dumbly forward, breaking shit.
I walked out a ways onto the frozen river,
my legs wavering like a new animal. The river
and sky were leaking sound, like all the old echo
was ebbing out, churning snow dust on the dusted ice.
I shouted a little into the churn, just to see.
I held a guttural hum, tried to find the whir’s level.
I bent the pitch against the wind’s rush, the cargo trucks
rumbling far off across a wire bridge. I wanted an image
or act to set against the immensity. I dreamed
the old dream of life recompensed by conscientious attention,
by the mind’s finding of some glittering thing
to which to give its passing allegiance.
But there’ll be none of that sad dazzling just now,
no deathless deep song pulled from the dumb drone.
I wish to speak to the condition plainly:
I was alone at the outset and afterward.
There were no names wandering aimless
and moondrunk in waves of snow or dust,
no hot lessons twisting in the halogen glare
of any Holy Bible. I believed in easing into the present
dispensation, admitting it freely, now that already flood
laps the door. I thought each day
to be the hard and broken prayer of the only
God degenerate enough to mix his hands in the mash
and our reciprocity was merely to be awake in it.
I think of the kid who huffed paint from a Dunkin’ bag
and rode a moped through the mall’s ground floor,
clear to the east entrance. I’d held a door for him.
(He offered folding money for the help but I refused it,
certain somehow I owed the charity.)
I stood in wide bank of windows between Neiman
and the candle stand—the glass unwashed of birdshit
and so sun-bleached and peeling, so smeared
by damage as to be nearly opaque––and waited
to let this dumbfuck boy pass back into the sun-washed afternoon
unimpeded, having accomplished a gesture so empty
and total it could’ve been protest or praise
or just the imagination making rapport
in outward life. As the motor’s low crackle
came bearing down the airy corridor
I longed for that degree of solitude
and fame, when identity makes a flush edge
with what happens, when action leaves nothing leftover
to advertise or repair. Afterward I sat in the food court
and watched my will pick at the world. I mean
I leaned into some dead space in the heart of the day,
some unclaimed margin where the myriad things
could shear into the frame and dissipate at their pace.
So the animal had passed through history to experience this:
the innocuous cacophony of something always happening.
A blown-out speaker speaking buzz above the atrium.
The heart’s whole indistinguishable drama.
This ghost blotter, these wires of light.
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