This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features a poem by Sarah V. Schweig. 

Toward the Great Unity

And then I went to seek The Great Unity. 
Goodbye, I said, my family, as I left them.
I worked for a company in a municipal building.
In a hole, with my belongings, I built a home. 

I was young, always returning to the municipal building, 
where an iron lamp hung, a flickering vestige of history.
And when I moved my belongings in with a man and out of their hole,
Goodbye, my family. I’ll be seeing you. I’ll be writing you, I’d said.

It wasn’t easy. In their search for meaning, they resemble me, my family. 
We want to understand the meaning of experience. Back when poetry 
poured from my young body, words brought up history, and seemed to 
transcend. Poetry stopped. To the idea of The Great Unity I clung.

Each morning, I walked my body beneath the flickering lamp, 
meaning nothing. Words brought up history, and I wrote it down.
It left my memory empty, and I forgot what I meant.  
I’ll be writing you, I wrote, but could not bear the words.

Poetry stopped in my aging body. Now it carries what remains 
of my family: The memory of my young brother, in the face of a man 
visiting the home I built with another. Sometimes, rarely, he flickers before me, 
that boy, my brother, whom I could never fully record in poetry, in history.

I thought I’d find The Great Unity. It seems there is none.
Now, I kneel down before its flickering idea, and my family 
kneels down inside me. All of history brought us here. 
Goodbye, I said, my history. And then my young brother disappeared.


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).