archives fall 2008



What Is Summoned

Or say you are fifteen and sitting on stone steps
beneath a denuded sky. 

What is the possible outcome? you ask,
the crickets in the soybean fields a susurration,
the hawks pinned beneath the clouds
slowing each molecule.

Or you are standing at the edge of an abandoned factory
or before the reservoir with its truncated moonlit waves.

Or sitting on a bus or at a school desk
or in Margaret Conkle’s basement
or in the high school bleachers or on a porch,

and your hands are unmoving in your lap.  You shift
inside yourself even while everything is still.

But something’s coming.  You sense a vague stuttering—
even though the lights in the houses off North Street
are spent embers, even though the smoke
from the refinery drifts weighty and alluvial
above the grain elevators, the churches, the bars—

and then there is a roiling quicksilver.  Listen:
a radio stammers and squawks
from an open window beyond the railroad tracks—

and something moves.  A brown river creeps into a basin.
Snow falls.  Wind ripples as an inland prairie sea.
You pull back from the body as though to disappear
inside a fog, as though it is possible
for mist to seep inside your lungs and so become them.

And even the deer standing with drooped heads
beyond the cistern sense something in the air and look up.



What I am trying to say, trying to say
is that the wet clarinet reed and ligature,
the locked chain tethered to the bicycle wheel,
the Bach cantata, the gray wool sweater,
the green goose droppings on the fourth fairway,
the picture on the seventh page of the coffee table book
of the flightless kiwi bird with its long slender bill.
Or imagine the milky white fluid of cataracts,
or the moon glowing yellow above the sidewalk
where you first met.  Or then the walk along the river
that no longer recommends itself to old feet
when the sky is wet and black and the trees
are leaning toward you in the night.  It is the stutter
of words, the wrong words, the old words,
the words that won’t fit against your tongue.
It is the wag and portent of each new hall of bones.
What I am trying to say is that the Mississippi hurricane
that flattened your aunt’s house, that tipped the cyclone fence,
that slung the straw so that the strands arrowed into the barn
walls then stuck.  What I am trying to say is that the gamboling  
of young girls in yellow bonnets outside the church
on Elm Street on Easter.  Or then again another marriage
sleeping like an old dog beneath the porch.  I can’t believe
that each new word won’t slip into another, like Chinese boxes,
each sudden syllable revealing another insubstantial truth.
And then again there are the crabapples that fall to the ground
and then ferment.  What I am trying to say
is that it is not enough—not nearly—to know
what you are knowing, or to lie down
in the grass and to roll the word bodice on your tongue.
What I am trying to say is that the old-fashioned grocery
paper bags that break open in the rain, the dizzying dots
dividing like amoebas in the Seurat painting,
the iridescent blue green of the mackerel, the smell
of cinnamon, the smoke stacks spewing white like a
Stygian fog, the planetarium ceiling as the lights go out,
or the sound of the word chicory.  What I am trying
to say, trying to say is that someone needs to hold the lilacs
toward you in forgiveness, hold them toward, saying



As if it were the year of the persiflageous
dinner party—the Sebolts and the Kayles
and Fran and Danny—and not the summer
of hurricanes, which swept along our coast
to clean the wounds. And sometimes as I gazed
at the foreshortened curvature of sand disappearing
beyond the pier, great clouds pillared (pilloried)
the sky like a naturalistic augury or occultation—
so I bought biscuits from the bakery and recalled
the momentous clouds in Le Bassin d'Argenteuil.
Real clouds, of course, pale beside the memory
of the coffee table book from Musée d'Orsay
we held in our laps. As a biscuit-colored sky
fell through the tired window and engulfed us.


Visiting the Graves of Strangers

Finally, after many years, we compared notes:

Once I watched a brown bat fly out of the empty
socket of the moon.

Once you climbed a sweetgum tree
to be closer to the moon’s grave stillness.

I wish I could say we railed against
the earth’s dead weight: after all, don’t we beseech
the heavens from the grave, shovelful by shovelful?

But in the end there was only the briefest history
of our lives: we were born, we suffered small indignities,
we walked amid the graves of strangers.

And each prayer we spoke turned out to be the same:

Let us carry the figs in our arms away from the withered tree.
Let us dissolve the sweetness of the flesh against our tongues.  


Doug Ramspeck’s poetry collection Black Tupelo Country was selected for the 2007 John Ciardi Prize for Poetry and will be published by BkMk Press (University of Missouri-Kansas City) in the fall of 2008. His poems have appeared in journals that include West Branch, Rattle, Confrontation Magazine, Connecticut Review, Nimrod, Hunger Mountain, and Seneca Review. He directs the Writing Center and teaches creative writing and composition at The Ohio State University at Lima. He lives in Lima with his wife, Beth, and their daughter, Lee.