Bryan Penberthy



Bryan Penberthy



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Bryan Penberthy was raised near Leavenworth, Kansas, and currently lives in Charleston, South Carolina. In 2000, while an undergraduate at Kansas State University, he was selected as an Associated Writing Programs (AWP) Intro Award winner in poetry. He also received the Lamb Memorial Scholarship from KSU, given every two years to the outstanding student in the creative writing department. In 2003 Penberthy completed an MFA at Purdue University, where he received the Leonard Neufeldt Award for his work. During his time at Purdue, he served as Poetry Editor for Sycamore Review.

Penberthy's first book, Lucktown, won the National Poetry Review book prize and will be published in 2007.  His poetry has appeared in many journals, including Crazyhorse, ACM, West Branch, Bat City Review, and River Styx, and has appeared online in Blackbird and Verse Daily.

For more information, visit: www.losttimepoetry.com


Places like this aren’t invented.

The cold, industrial polish of this city

skews light, and what it reflects


it returns badly. Splitting the landscape,

an obsidian river carves

silhouettes of brush and rocks, banks strewn with mica


and quartz shards, pale smoke frozen

in crystal. A storm-split oak arcs into

bridge-lit water, a coral


reef suspended in dandelion wine. The trees

and half-illuminated

buildings seem submerged.


I know so little

about things that matter. How

to be a good man. Why rivers are constantly


moving, apparently toward

ends that mean completion. Whether, drinking

their waters, I would forget


these twilights—the smell of wet brick and broken pines,

indigo and sapphire-troubled

skies—or drown. My distracted heart beats codes


I’m unable to translate.

The only ritual I know how to perform

is rubbing the sleep from my eyes.




Big Sky Dust Jamboree
The frying pan girls are dancing

on the splintered steps of the bandstand,

thin fingers gesturing at rain.

They are overflowing

with wet smiles.


Some kids stroke the smooth back

of a drowned rat with branches,

pushing it against the swamped

gutter drain, to which it

sticks like a promise.


Out past the paper mill,

the river is still receding,

clogged with the white mass

of clotting pulp which worms

southward, away from

the drowned place.


We have never felt

so quiet.





How We Breathe


Cloud-scrimmed Kansas,

dogwood near my window—shadows in the branches move and fall

in unpredictable sweeps,


slipping the weight of rain. Yesterday’s storm flooded our streets,

gutterwash cresting sidewalks

and pouring through the muddy access roads I drove looking


for you. A shroud

of willow branches sway and fade against the sky’s elliptic blue

dusk. All cloud is still.


Fireflies catch in the leaves, their phosphorescent messages

shorting out, breathing

in their way. Watching, I can almost remember how we kept our lungs filling,


giving in to instinct,

to the thousand cages that memory and its cracked bottles

full of hand-built galleons, offer.

All poetry on this page
© b
y Bryan Penberthy, 2007 


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