Free Ireland shipping on orders over €25 | Free Worldwide shipping on orders over €45
0

Quasimode / Stephen O'Connor

Quasimode

By: Stephen O'Connor

€12.00
The characters in QUASIMODE inhabit worlds—real and imaginary—where nothing works right and everything teeters on the edge of obliteration. They are shabby strivers, oppressed by fate, invalid ideals, and their own incompetence. In the title poem, the speaker attempts to build a planet:  Inevitably, we’d start again, unfolding the instructions, slipping tab A into its designated slot, giving every bolt a twist ...
ISBN 978-1-915022-52-3
Pub Date Monday, February 26, 2024
Cover Image Cover and interior artwork: Stephen O’Connor
Page Count 104
Share on

The characters in QUASIMODE inhabit worlds—real and imaginary—where nothing works right and everything teeters on the edge of obliteration. They are shabby strivers, oppressed by fate, invalid ideals, and their own incompetence. In the title poem, the speaker attempts to build a planet: 


Inevitably, we’d start again, unfolding

the instructions, slipping tab A into

its designated slot, giving every bolt

a twist with that patented wrench that kept


getting lost. But always something was wrong

with the gravity, or our mountains would drift. 


And yet the worlds these characters inhabit are filled with joy, even if it can’t be justified: 


What I most feel, in this place, this instant, alone, 


is gratitude—which, with a force of emotion

that surprises me, I long for someone to receive.


I’m not sure why: So that my love may be returned

to me as love? So that I may not be as senseless


as the wren? I do not believe in God. I never have.

I can’t.


“Stephen O’Connor is a poet who can invent the human, the age, and the planet from scratch. And when he has constructed them in his meticulous, visceral cadences, they will astonish you with their strangeness, their precariousness, and their familiarity. These are the poems of a quintessential adult, a writer who has discovered what we usually can’t imagine: a personal world examined from beyond the individual vantage point. “At my age, nothing is new, but paradise/can be built on less.” There’s an achingly concrete mysticism here, a transcendence too exacting to require a God or admit an endpoint, built like physics on the evidence of the senses subjected to inspired questioning. A poem like “Yellow Valley” is both raw—you might think of Michaux’s phrase “man and woman at the edge of the abyss of love”—and an epic Wittgensteinian thought experiment, an anti-fantasy, critiquing and subverting its dramatic premise and speaker. Always the backdrop is a world of utter contingency. O’Connor’s voice creates a thrill of intimacy, with loved ones, with the reader, with the unknowable present, even if time is the place where we vanish. Quasimode is a book that will last.”

D. Nurkse

Stephen O'Connor

STEPHEN O’CONNOR is the author of five previous books, including Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings, a novel, Here Comes Another Lesson, short stories, and Orphan Trains, history/biography. His poems have appeared in Poetry Magazine, Conjunctions, Agni, The Beloit Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. His fiction has been published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, and Best American Short Stories, among many other places. He teaches in the Sarah Lawrence writing program. For more information, visit stephenoconnor.net.

Quasimode


1.


After eons of interstellar drifting, we began to build 

our planet. At first it seemed a game: Glue rock


to root to sunset in wheat field to unjustified 

joy in the cricket-loud night. But, unexpectedly,


we began to care. Then nothing 

looked right: the sand on our beaches


was rain gray, our apples ripened 

cockroach brown; and we could never


get our moon quite right; instead 

of rising, it would wobble along


the horizon’s edge, then 

fall off.


2.


You’d get that look in your eye. “What

are we doing!” you’d say. I’d shake my head:


“You’re right. You’re right.” Then one of us 

would pull the string, and all our new-made


facts would revert to possibilities, nightmares, 

hopes, home truths. Oh, those endless ages


breathing spacesuit air! Oh, those 

solipsistic hallucinations! Those lonely


eternities when we were mere zeros 

in the gulfs between stars!


3.


Inevitably, we’d start again, unfolding 

the instructions, slipping tab A into


its designated slot, giving every bolt

a twist with that patented wrench that kept


getting lost. But always something was wrong 

with the gravity, or our mountains would drift,


or there would be rigidities in the air that blocked 

even our most heartfelt exclamations.


4.


We held a conclave: Since the world wouldn’t work, 

we had to retool ourselves. Mostly we did it


collaboratively. We’d set larynx by eyebeam by tibia 

by lip and take turns fitting piece to piece. We’d hang


our words on wires and tinker

with their meanings, using dental tools and chamois


cloth to make them gleam. One afternoon we set 

our memories on pillows—lopsided tree-house


beside snow-romping dog beside streetlight buzzing 

and a smattering of Chinese. But we looked


at them so long and tried them out in so many 

situations that we grew confused about whose


was whose, and could no longer remember 

why that mattered. On good days


we’d wind up approximations of ourselves, 

on bad days Quasimodos, platypuses,


banana slugs. We’d laugh, shrug, trade 

sober glances, then start again.


* * *


Confidence Man


He wakes us in the 4:00 a.m. quiet, sits us down

in our moonlit kitchen and, placing a cup of steaming


water in front of us, to which he adds a single basil leaf, 

he talks in that unequalled voice. During blackouts,


he waits beside us while heat seeps through 

the dripping air conditioner, and pedestrians


walk home by phone light, and he abides

until the refrigerator motor rattles on and the lamps


flicker brown, then bright. When we are old,

and our bodies are turning to the ugliest of meats,


he hovers at our bed’s end, weightless as an angel. 

But he is not an angel. He has surrounded himself


with acres of consolation, but all we see is blue 

dust—faintly acrid on the tongue, and it makes


our eyes water. “I wanted ours to be a perfect 

union,” he tells us at the table in the back, candle out.


“I wanted every desire to be balanced, exactly, 

by generosity. And stasis to be a form


of flight. But I was yammering

in my sleep. I was driving with my headlights


dark. And every word I told my love

was a lie. So here I am, waist-deep in cindered


beliefs, and I can’t stop lighting them. 

And I can’t make this yearning leave.


This yearning:

my teaming city. And I can’t stop hope.


I look at you and I am filled

with hope, and I am filled with yearning,


and I am hollowed out entirely, and I cannot 

stop. I cannot stop.”


* * *


Above the Lake


In this season the world is composed 

of absence: black, which is the color


of no-light, and white, which is the color 

of blank. By world I mean this snow,


these woods, this bleak sky, this mute 

roar, which is the afterlife of sound.


By absence I mean abstraction, this black 

brook as diagonal gash, these slim trees


as lines, vertical, monotonous, impossibly 

interchangeable.


By abstraction I mean

meaning, I mean human longing,


I mean loneliness accreting as quiet 

on quiet, as white on bluish white.


All of the above poems are Copyright © Stephen O'Connor, 2024

Contact us

Salmon Poetry / The Salmon Bookshop
& Literary Centre,
9 Parliament Street,
Ennistymon,
County Clare,
Ireland

Newsletter
Arts Council
Credit Cards