you are in the diode archives winter 2010




The boy has never known his father.
This is a statement of belief. The wind walking
through the soybeans on invisible legs. The barn
that burns down and all that is left are the charred
remains and the tangle of new life clawing
from the dirt. So when he sees the owl,
and the owl is the same gray at dusk
as the tuliptree, as still statuary in the highest limb,
he imagines that the owl is his father.
Before the road there is only the desire for the road.
Then suddenly the bird detaches itself
from the tree. Its wings are long as a boy’s arms.
It flies over the cattail reeds in the pond.
Some reeds are swaying forward in the wind, some back.
And because every story begins in longing and ends
in confusion, or begins in confusion and ends in longing,
I think I must have been that boy. Each story
is apocryphal. We mean it to be our own story,
but then the owl detaches itself and flies away.
Or the cattails sway and so display self-consciousness:
I was one person and then I was another. I believed once
there were leeches in the pond that would cling
to my flesh. I never saw one, but each time
I climbed from the water I checked my arms and legs.
You have to burn them off. The belief was apocryphal,
which doesn’t mean it wasn’t true. Every flame
is its own longing. How could anyone believe otherwise?
I was a boy once—then I tore myself like an owl
from a tuliptree and flew into the evening sky. 


The Valley Below

From a distance it seemed
they had discovered something.
Boy and father gazing down from
the mountain outcrop at our cabin.
Perhaps it wasn’t the spare smallness
of our roof that kept them gazing—
our lives there half-hidden amid the beech trees—
but the relation of our valley to the slope.
On the mountain you became the way the wind was,
rippling past the clouds without impediment,
but in the valley the stream struggled
for any path that it could manage
and was girded on every side by red oak,
basswood, cove hardwood, and ash.
Years later I would think about my father
splitting wood behind our cabin in October—
the ritual vehemence of his axe,
the white rawness of the logs laid bare—
and I would remember the boy and his father
standing on that mountain outcrop in late evening,
looking down, the two of them listening
to the abiding insistence of my father’s axe—
and I would conjure endless, transfiguring stories
of what it was they’d thought they’d understood.  


Doug Ramspeck’s poetry collection Black Tupelo Country (BkMk Press) was selected for the 2007 John Ciardi Prize for Poetry. His chapbook Where We Come From was published by March Street Press. Several hundred of his poems have been accepted by journals that include Prairie Schooner, Epoch, West Branch, Third Coast, Northwest Review, and Hayden’s Ferry. He was awarded an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award for 2009. He directs the Writing Center and teaches creative writing at The Ohio State University at Lima.