Verses three, four and six from 'Of the Country, The City, The Sea'


                        There is not one mind to stand with the trees, one life with the mountains.
                                                                           –Robinson Jeffers
East of the Cascades, cloud shadows
chase ice-water ribbons,

the brook horse churns black glass—
running the rubble, conifer-fletching,

reflections comb the current
thumb stones, minnows, a fallen leaf;

and we hear Snyder’s Axe
        pledge the oath of cycles
as it echoes through the mountain folds:

              who would we have become
              had we asked
              the elders of wind and water,
              to guide our hands with every season,
              in every direction?


The hour shies behind blue conifer
and the ridgeline’s compassion in a blush of copper,
dimming, like tin portraits bronzed with fingerprint oils.

Creekside cabins, once swollen with hope,
sulk with the unspoken poem of cold hearthstone,
block clap of cordwood.

Alder logs fold in the river bend; geese dot the moor mist
heavy as the workshop scent, and silence of fathers.

Dignity, clean and strong as river-stone,
was wrung for the blood of new beginnings.
From here, cities rose
with the absence of innocence, ease of its loss.



                    I asked all that is in it; they made the same confession.
                                                     –Augustine of Hippo
Lay your eyes to the foundations of our cities,
your ear to cavernous hours:

Lips recede from the anonymous body, bare
the inner-city grin of the new praetorium:

viral construction of totemic stones,
workers in constant riveting      raise beams, banded marble,
riveting sheet metal to seams riveting another cube of clouds, wind within another floor,
riveting—ever upward riveting   colored geometry and the generational sacrifice of its builders
to the firmament-myth of the self-made man—the exceptional American—
our reflection           etched like death      in everything.

Titans of the new colossus
replenish the pantheon with hardened eyes, rebar and kneepads,
punch cards and hard hats drop in heavy hands.
Callused fingers grade against one another
in gobbed smoke—bitten, exhaled. Ash floats to collars, crows’ feet—
rubbed into brow folds with neon light and echoed shouts
in our cities’ cavernous hours, When there are tears, you see
the world’s teeth. The lustful tongues of the capitol drip their will
into brawn-hands accustomed to fire,
lathe the brass of fallen cities with the sheen of coffins in morning light
where men are made shadows upon smoke in the street
or the factories’ billowing steam
or made names in pages—as easily burned or forgotten.

Dusk on a Minoan mud disk,
          an Attic Black urn. The sepulchers fill with seawater.



                    Nature's creative power is far beyond man's instinct of destruction.
                                                                        –Jules Verne
We set to loom the atomic-shroud of fire,
wove the swelling shadow of our age,
fed broken mouths with broken loaves
of lead, brass and ritual steel.

Our leaders
strode as titans into wrath;
bellies over-ripened with flame
burst through broken ribs, blooming
upon the land like umbrellas of blood flowers,
razing light to silken steam.
Billions exhaled into eternity
as the shroud of endless winter
parched the country, the cities, the seas.

The youth—
bound by the neck with a century of simulation and blue light—
had been led to believe simplicity is inequity
and so pointed fingers at a wound poorly sutured
as the deserts encroached and our cities rose
atop the suffering of immigrant millions.

We plunged fingernails into eyes and sawed at our hair,
slicing at the starless sky while the mud-ash of millions filled our mouths.
We fled underground, tunneled into hovels—
as moths tick the waning bulb, and we shudder in the tightened air—
pale eyes of dulling gold, dimming into tomb-light.


        The last man—a woman,
round with a broken child—
utters a single vowel, drawn thin in voluminous silence–
the magnitude of companionship in the enormity of solitude,

the reflection of rain upon walls, rippling.

CM Downes

CM Downes has traveled the high and low places of the world, learning, writing, and teaching. He resides in a humble cabin that he and his wife built and share with their little red dog, Turkey. Downes received the Allegheny Review’s 2013 Poem of the Year (chosen by Sarah Arvio) and a Reynolds Award from Nota Bene (2011). He earned an MFA in Poetry from Seattle Pacific University, and he is a regular feature in the Pacific Northwest.