love letters to Walt Whitman by Kristian Anfinn Tonnessen

Walt,

 

we do not love the same, you and I,

as you showed me with honey and birch beer.

 

though I know you’ve become a blossom of dust

scattered under trotting horses    

and in spring-flush streams,

the taste of dust is better to me,

and my lips are blue from long draughts.

 

Walt,

 

they have said you are a very great teacher,     

and learning is the best antidote to fear.

 

you whispered, this is indeed music!

and I closed the bedroom window partial

to the sound of murmuring voices in the neighbor’s parlor.

 

Walt,

 

I think it is your golden armor I like best. or maybe

the shallow places of your collar

where my hand dips, the beak of a kingfisher.

 

once I saw shoals of shipwrecked minnows

huddled upstream.

there were thousands upon thousands;

like us, without children.

like us, against the current.

 

Walt,

 

you made good things out of calamity.

eased my phantom limb

clutching at a bayonet.

 

sometimes in the candlelight  

you said words about faith which I could not quite make out.

 

you made an old man out of me.

one by one the evenings slip to the ground like leaves—

scarlet tanagers, goldfinches and orioles—

do you remember? I taught you the names of all the birds.

 

Walt,

 

I loved your fervent bluster,

like the front of a hurricane, full of wind and nonsense.

 

I loved the way you said New Orleans.

it was a wide, arrogant-strolling city,

coming out of your lion lips.

 

you said, I resign myself to the dusk.

here I am; I am become the dusk,

a man in violets, permanent bruises.

vivid shoal, mussel aright.

 

Walt,

 

It is 1892.

your picture that of an American saint.

a man with hips like the first uncurling of spring.

 

when once I took the long journey to your city

we strode along white beaches you knew better than any stripped-bare body.

I stopped to skip a flat stone,

you pointed out an osprey.

 

I’d taught you that name. before,

you knew the birds as nothing but angels,

loos’d in flight.

Fall by Emma Bruckner

Do you remember when Felix Baumgartner fell
From space
Into the shallow stratosphere of trivialized headlines?
It was the start of fall.

A Sunday evening, we were coming home,
My orange Spanish book matched the trees,
It smelled of leather carseats and October sky,
The temperature fell overnight.
The sun sets early now, I thought
And I told Dad about the jump.

It was a Sunday also when Dad died
The following summer.
It takes six feet
To know gravity.

Cuyahoga by Kristian Anfinn Tonnessen

blue jeans ride the skinned cusp of my leg; blue collar scrapes throat.

I swell with factory meat.

I well like a river filled with flammables.

show them it's not about the money.

 

it's not a matter of pride.

pride is my sons and I masturbating in our individual bedrooms.

shame sticks them with hurt the Percocet doesn't touch,

and shame keeps daughters of a certain age frightening to me.

 

I shave slowly, locusts poke their heads

through the barren field of my neck.

why do I want to ask you questions

you can only answer by touch? I am thinking of things,

but I cannot talk about the things.

 

how did I recognize you?

from the crow's feet that had landed on the runways of your eyes,

something about Ohio veins on legs

reconciled with straightjacket maps.

 

the university of rust. the factory of rust. I know anger. at the end of the rally,

I shift my thighs over and over--

say loudly slurred and often, 'will someone drive me back to my motel?

my pockets are empty but my blood is full.'

The Bruise: He said by Emilie Unterweger

One Time.       Once—she had a mark.

Thanksgiving day. She wore a turtleneck

and      pinched lips. Kept tugging her collar—

it was hard living with her silence. Wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t

respond. I was trying—

trying to          communicate. You know—

 

That silence was a hook to the gut. I had to shout—

to stop my head filling with that fucking static—that knowing

what she was thinking. She would try to hide

behind this fake vacancy—I could read her behavior

for Christ’s sake! I mean—Every time I’d start talking

 

She wouldn’t look at me.     You know that—THAT

left a mark. If she did—she was like           this      alley cat

watching me through a fence

waiting

Untitled by Jordan Stepaniuk

after Inger Christensen’s “Alphabet”

Wolves exist, wolves with wide yellow eyes, exist;

wild wolves, and winter, and windows

wild-eyed wolves staring me down;

wolves and wind in the willows exist;

discovering the sea lion in 1891 exists,

1891 exists, and ducks; ducks and Gershwin in the rain

and empty reservoirs in the rain exist,  

rain that isn’t really rain but mist exists;

alone with the ducks, and the water reeds, and the trees

and if I am alone,

with only the ducks, and the sounds of rain in the reservoir,

do I exist?

 

rainy afternoon, August 1

 

 

Ducks exist, ducks and dark waters;

ducklings exist, if ducks exist; and rain,

rain exists

rain and reservoirs so gray they could be filled of ash,

ash; ash exists, and flames, and falling

speaking words that mix with soot

crumbling as soon as they leave your tongue, exists,

crying tears without salt, only the ashes of a family;

family exists, filling the reservoir with tears so the ducks do not drown in the ash ;

ash mixed with duck feathers grayer than the ash and the water over which they float

grayer than the sky from which we fall, these things exist.

 

If things happen in an instant, the ordinary instant,

then the ordinary instant must exist;

ice floes exist, ice and discovering the sea lion,

the ordinary, mundane, the routine,

daily routine exists, and days, yes, days still exist,

ordinary days that dawn temperate and nearly cloudless

in the eastern United States exist.

 

morning, September 11

 

Dinosaurs don’t exist

Tyrannosaurus Rex and his scrawny limbs

and his beady eyes;

Velociraptors plundering the eggs of prehistoric ducks;

ducks exist,

and a crater in Mexico, deeper than it is wide, exists;

and Quetzalcoatlus, the largest creature to ever fly,

mighty Quetzalcoatlus fell from the sky

drowning in a cloud of ash;

Quetzalcoatlus doesn’t exist.

 

Food exists; food and falls of water

and the Révolution Française;

Robespierre, Thermidor, storming the Bastille

exist; Napoleon exists, and the Reign of Terror and the Second Regime,

and Marie Antoinette did exist;

Marie Antoinette who said let them eat cake;

cake exists

the taste of cake exists if saliva exists

only if saliva exists does cake really exist;

ash-flavored everything exists,

a thousand televisions screaming one thing;

Indian Summer exists, and children screaming in the streets;

children must exist, if evil exists; and

children, evil isn’t something that happens far off,

it suddenly touches you on the arm.

Samsara by Jenny Xu

In honor of Quarto's new website, we are republishing the winners of last year's Quarto Awards. Jenny Xu was the winner of the Wendy Xu Poetry Prize for her piece, "Samsara."

A man of few characters

             his tongue relaxed in admiration when his eyes glanced off

                          the swell of the Pearl Tower

                                                    the swerve of the World Financial Center

                                                                 which she saw in her mind as a cheap bottle opener   but he

                                                                          saw as a samurai

sword in view four but in truths a two faced thing

a hollow glass pulse

 

Shanghai      thousand faced        carries her towers high

                                                                 on hundred arms to distract disciples from seeing

                                            her crueler expressions

 

                               chopping chives   the woman knew

                                                                                                                                                 she retched when she stared

upward so she kept her eyes at smudged level

                                                          shoes

                                                                               Not so her husband who still gawped like a country boy

 

The second transformation to fish on a block      remind me   crowed the Goddess  who do you think you

are

             Her slim synthetic pencil skirts still hang behind the television and she sometimes passes by to run

her fingers through sleek grain

                                                                                        Bent wide then thin      she   who had tasted

                                                          the sting of Maotais

 

She beat herself bloody against street tides

                                                                        To think she had wanted to leave the curving stone pathways

cutting paddies into the characters they are named for

               four       squares      within            one

                                                                                        what balance    

where the two wound home together when they were school children       who called

for the child             she had cast                   for his hand to bend him at right angles to her side

 

 

              While walking out to get groceries she often thought she saw herself or a sister

                                                                                     a daughter recognizable

                          by the rural whiff of fresh pork and cheap denim    sometimes she saw

only another stranger like the last spawned from subway maws

                                                                                                                   The hack of constant cigarette clouds

soon swirled through her nostrils to familiarity

                                                                                                        nauseating fumes of sewers mingling with

grudging pangs for anything salvaged

                 from street side vats of fry oil pools

 

He hoists open hands halfway up to heaven

bundles of steel atop his spine

 

returning at night to the keeled cinder block within which she unrolls their daily bed

                                                                              The excesses of the city crouch together there

particulate shot eyes       veins reeling a chemical beat   lungs flapping open gilled in supplication

burn yuan for mercy