love letters to Walt Whitman by Kristian Anfinn Tonnessen


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.