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.



Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the PEN Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems).