076.1: Jeff Downey:: A Chamber Apart 076

Jeff Downey’s work operates within its own unique sanctuary of call and response. In “A Chamber Apart”, the poem is dictated by short lines and tight enjambments that yield all the fun of conundrum and contradiction. “If it’s in a movie, same thing,” begins the second sentence of this longer poem and is a microcosm of what this beautiful piece offers: "and if it’s in a dream, something, / some newspaper folded in such a way / as to keep every insert." “Same thing,” becomes “something,” and such an odd but uniquely clever sentence exhibits where and how Downey’s leviathan intends to play ball: on its own terms and even a shrewd reader cannot help but to be happy to go with it.

He is also a master of image and metaphor. The poem begins with the beautiful scene of snow plows, “out in anticipation of snow/softly scouring the streets.” There is no expectation or lack of surprise to Downey’s invention, but his poem is not a hodgepodge either. The music of snow plows grinding the asphalt quickly disappear and the replacement of a “Pond drained like a saltlick” sits in its wake. At times, one almost forgets the syntax of Downey’s elaborate construction and settles for the poem to amalgamate line-by line. This sentence, in particular, runs the risk of non-sequitur, but resonates as brilliant and wild: "The stars remain out and fire / everyone’s morning coffee." Cody Todd

A Chamber Apart

Plows are out in anticipation of snow

softly scouring the streets.

If it’s in a movie, same thing,

and if it’s in a dream, something,

some newspaper folded in such a way

as to keep every insert.

Swing shift like a kettle’s second coiling.

Potato and leek soup.

Restless, I put your shirt on as a joke,

stretch it in the paunch,

as a chinook in April flatters itself.

One of us is social to enhance isolation,

the other solitary to appreciate company.

It’s called checking when

a knot in the woodwork becomes a problem.

Hiatus: to see easier.

We may be a pair of characters,

but are we one phoneme?

Sailor and sweetheart cardigan.

Sadness masked as nonchalance.

The fridge kicks off a decibel or two

I didn’t realize was so predominant.


If to know is the world’s rejoinder,

the world rejoins our program.

Twenty degrees in sun,

ten in shade.

For snow to take root, any place will answer.

Pond drained like a salt lick.

Man in down vest walking vizsla.

I’ve taken today to hesitate, to hesitation.

To know through love by being known.

Her rotations go well, or

her rotations call for nothing to happen

in order to rid pockets of quail.

Mistake one thing and see where it leaves you.

This notary public, winter

sworn on the sandhills.

The moon bounces earth-moon-earth

like some kind of lambda

we long.

Sat her last hour of call

playing dominos with a ghost runner.


It started as a way to avoid vapor lock,

and now driving through the night suits me.

The gas stations and quiet,

a menu converging on whatever necessary

to keep alert but not overactive,

cashew mix, unsweetened tea,

nowhere’s Star Herald.

Text on my phone like a wire to a prospector:

Base there, love there, long for to touch there.

It can be freeing to abbreviate,

then again the more devices I have

the more I seem to be sending distress signals.

As fairly to darken the sky,

passenger pigeons scattered.

Passing these Mayflower condominiums

every day, a sail in irons.

“If you lived here, you’d be home by now.”

Domestic but also intent upon the hills,

a rainy day garbage bag lifted from the trashcan

and propped against the door,

I miss you, and near the canal

sandcherry has suckered to form

a small but wide thicket

where the mule deer bed down.

The deer don’t appear to be nocturnal or diurnal.

They just like their shadows long.

It might be called first thing,

a light in lieu of words: idle crows, idle pipes,

and an idling Greyhound.

The rain goes easy on exhaust, but not on me.

I warp where underwritten, a drop-leaf

table by the side of the road.

Drops of sap, which yesterday I took as rain and turned in,

today stick my notes together.

Saw coyote haze sheep toward strand.

Motorcycles everywhere.

In the hinterlands. On a pilled road.

Change prating in the cup holder.

It’s only when a highway is stripped

that I realize its engineering marvel.

So smooth was the ride before,

a tick crawling across skin.

Oak branch, torch, obverse.

I barely made it out. I called it in the air.

All nostalgia is regret.

No nostalgia is not regret.

I want to talk, but you’re sleeping

two time zones off.

Well, maybe you’re still studying.

It’s painkillers this month, their effect on kidneys

first noticed in Swiss watchmaking women

whose fingers were delicate enough to do the work,

so long as they allayed arthritis.

I call you. Voicemail. Sorry about that,

I say to the other end, admiring you

for what I cannot. All wingspan

and night-spent, maybe lost,

but that would be exceptional.

The geese begin to drop.


Mostly, I know not what exists

because it is bundled.

Spring with snow glowering in specks of black

like ermine crests, tiny paintbrushes

daubed in cotton.

Bundled early New England courtship

and bundled parting in a hurry.

The stars remain out and fire

everyone’s morning coffee.

Wednesday, a day of dress rehearsals.

Town hall upset with the circus

for a felled tree on the common.

It was actually two trees with a natural graft,

a parallelism like faith,

stenciling the world in hoodoo, pinnacle, spire,

ordering the outdoors to industry.

When I first learned the word deicide

I confused it with de-icer.

Sand washing up on the shoulder

the god of winter.

A piece of punk, breathing spell,

light each day that starts with you

lighting out to run, reflective enough

behind headphones, footfall,

moisture-wicking technology.