Poetry: The Domino Effect by Jeff Whitney

“The Domino Effect” is one of those poems that travels. Jeff Whitney uses these couplets to assemble vastness, one aphorism at a time, one startling image leaning into the next. What’s left, the poem ultimately asks, when it all falls down?


The Domino Effect

Not to be confused with The Butterfly
or The Hawthorne, The Casimir, The Accordion.

I mean each day one thing touches another
which in turn does another. The stars are made

one flourish at a time and once the ancestor of the cow
walked backwards into ocean to become the manatee.

A dam breaks and it’s Noah’s fun park
all over again. Not to be confused with The Lazarus

Effect where everyone dead you know is walking
the street again, looking in windows, stopping for coffee,

and not The Observer where light becomes definitive
when really it’s more like the dreams whales have

in their mother’s amniotic sacs. Algae bloom
and for ten weeks people say don’t eat

the shellfish. The wolf is the answer
to the question of the wolf. A man shoots

his gun in the air the first second of a new year
and forty-three seconds later someone drops dead

of failed machinery. My grandmother ate too much mercury
or not enough, doctors explained, which is why

the drawbridge of her mind opened and men
with swords came inside. You can wonder

about The Robin Hood Effect or why your gums bleed
especially in the evening. In fact, here’s a pen, write

a book. Make it a long one where by the end
it isn’t clear who won, the canyon or the cowboy.

Dirt will cover it all eventually but before then
we have these fields where the cows stand so perfectly

like bowling pins under clouds that strut on legs of
lightning, whispering their heat to a chosen few

heads of grass who, having learned the truth
of fire, can’t wait to tell their neighbors who light up

in turn until the cows go running and all the fences burn.
And burn and burn and burn and burn.

Jeff Whitney

Jeff Whitney is the author of five chapbooks, two of which were co-written with Philip Schaefer. Recent poems can be found in 32 PoemsAdroitBoothMuzzle, Prairie Schooner, and Verse Daily. He lives in Portland.

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