THERMOS 4: Jeff Downey

These days, we feature Jeff Downey’s work at the end of every new issue of THERMOS. Back in 2010, when our fourth issue emerged, we had no idea that would be the case, but we loved these three poems. In fact, the last line of “Theca” is one of my favorite individual lines we’ve ever printed. — AS 
In Deciding

the forest is mature enough,
do we mean for owls?
Do we mean full maturity is
but a dram of the past?
We have toilet roll binoculars
and a nose for vanish.
A half mile away
a predatory tuft is caught
in the barbwire.
Putting on the agony,
putting on the style.
An up and coming boxer
called east shares his hotel
with an opera company,
plinking their twilight west.
It might be added
pyrocumulus clouds exist.
That fire can incense
its own lightning.
The untold trenches
leapt in such fashion!
We endure. It is innate to duress.
A white eggshell
which has never had to hide
in plain sight, we evolve
to robin’s sky blue,
to, who would have thought,
discretion. This butte made do
as a perch. This tree all that
chalked up to be. One washboard,
cigar-box, comb and paper
at a time, skiffle proceeds
from mere onomatopoeia.
Kazoos have a way
of taking shape in rubble.
No need to reinvent the wheel.
As Usual, the Church

proper opened its wrought-iron grille.
I yawned because of someone else.

Lime was sprayed on the roadside
varietals. The less I took in, the less

I felt my lungs steel into wool.
A lion eating straw? I remember my Sunday

school teacher venturing. By which I mean
we played jeopardy with passages.

The winners were given a choice of horehound
or blueberry rock candy. She was a candlemaker

by day. In her mind, it was a lost art.
It too was going the way of things corporal.

Her rock candy was grown on a wick,
for lack of any other string at hand.

All that had happened—a powder
magazine exploded and a ship burned

down to the waterline—was the boarding
of concussed windows. The law against

hunting turnstones took effect. We up
and moved, more rhyme than reason.

The first thing I did was climb the tower.
It was a late spring evening such as our winter.

If there were a sunset, I was cold.
Radish was a hue I would come to know.


Tomorrow we won’t talk about our rasp.
The wagon wheel effect

of certain of our nighttime aliases.

We know there’s still room in the pictorial
movement for us.

To be surveyors.
To stand atop a hill and divine

a sortilege of cinder blocks.

It’s not that we are prolonging our misconduct.
It’s that we are patient.

Grown is a tansy boiled in milk.
Scalding and delicate

with the same import.

When I was still unsure
whether ingenuity was best spent getting rich

or in living free from care, I went north.
I came to a square in a vicarious town

where the cobblestones were swept
unusually clean. The virtue of iron tire bandings.

Ragamuffins in a circle squatted
with their hands pressed to the stones.

I realized then what capacity meant.
A little osmosis.

The give in give.

We go to the discotheque precisely
because the fire marshal hasn’t sanctioned it.


In suspense, moral checkpoints
inch toward the remediable

hairpin and brook
no half measures, doubletalk of removal.

Of the partitions speech succeeds daily—
the epiglottis, punctuation,

ink on page, water in rock,
names—coming across those children

I was at a loss.
I was a whistle with defunct flue.

It would be hypocritical of me,
to gainsay the immensity

of attending to that which persists in dullness.

Having had runner’s side stitch.
Having been induced by

a cracked window to disquiet.

It would be like an acorn
warning of Mongols.

The futility of being already upon.

In the imagination of the fire marshal,

he is hosing down the roof
he is about to collapse.

A bandanna to wean
dust from stir, retort from heat.

We have a separate feeling.
We are now on our own.

In which case, as the generic credo goes,
we look for ourselves.

The active ingredient is everyone else’s.


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