“The mountain overhead, five
Hundred billion tons of granite, was not enough.
Was not the world that ended, though the vision
Went on, firestorm and fallout. Diminishing
A little with each succeeding catastrophe.”
 – Rodney Jones, Apocalyptic Narrative


Then for weeks the sky spoke

for itself and black horses buckled

knees-first into dunes of sand, and even the sight

of their torsos folded over branches

was no match for the magnificent

strangeness to come. City sirens rang

themselves silent, and then I heard

nothing, only the pulse of some remote, incomprehensible

machine puffing away in its remorseless churn.

At first I remembered the bellies of helicopters, charcoaled simply

drawn dogs on the pavement, looked around to find

all the payphones gone. How long had they been missing?

There were booths but no phones. A child’s empty change

purse stuffed on a ledge, handprints in dust

on the doorframe. There is an abyssal yawn widening

on the horizon. When the light goes green I shut the shutters

and sit in my corner to block out the sheets of skin

that hang like scrubbed velvet

from bare branches. Each morning I wake

to a row of dogs huddled on the riverbank’s sunburned

shoulders, watching the waterline rise. They will not look up

at hands clapping or thunder, won’t flinch

at ash gathering on wet stone. Sometimes I light candles

in rooms across the shore and pretend the shadows are people. I am waiting for someone

to point to the river and tell me it’s only water.


Grady Chambers was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, where he currently lives,
works, and writes. Poems and essays of his have been published or are forthcoming at
The Nervous Breakdown, Blood Lotus Journal, The Rumpus, and SOFTBLOW Magazine.

The genesis of this poem came while looking at a Picasso painting that was on display at the Milwaukee Art Museum some months ago. The painting—depicting a fog shrouded bridge spanning a river—got me thinking about unpopulated impressionist landscape paintings as an expression of longing: the natural beauty of nature’s own shape that led urban painters to escape their crowded cities and capture the countryside in their work. This in turn led me to consider the ways in which human progress often comes at the expanse of the natural environment, and with the series of poems that I am at work on—set in a bleak, ravaged, almost post-apocalyptic landscape and of which this poem is a part of—I hope to provide a forum for the narrator’s ruminations on human progress vs. environmental degradation, art, and the effects of technological advancement..



Copyright 2009