Doug Ramspeck, Three Poems




The old women stand

at the windows in gray light,


gripping the sills and gazing

at the liver-spotted 


backs of their hands.

And they study 


the bandages of clouds 

drifting past, study


the moon slipping loose

of its skin. Here is 


a covenant of leaves

with dappled stains of light,


breaths like heat lightning 

on a far-off horizon.


And if once children 

sprang from the loam


of their bodies, now the stars 

barely blink in the dark,


and the beggarly moon

hoards its myopia of longing.


And they rise each morning 

in albino light, look out


to the manifold blooming

of weeds at the yard’s edge. 





I come from

a beautiful country


with a bounty 

of sutured fields


and a woodchuck’s

skull I unearthed


one summer 

in the garden.


And each summer

my father casts 


his fishing line

into the river, 


and lovers, after dark,

carry blankets down 


to the water’s edge

beneath a clemency 


of clouds. My father 

speaks sometimes


of a German soldier 

he shot in the neck


during WWII,

who fell into 


a French river. 

But now, so many


years later, I study 

a woodpecker high 


in the gray body 

of a tree, the bird 


tapping a secret

message into air. 


And here on

my wife’s shoulder,


clinging like a root 

or epidendrum, 


is a birthmark— 

dark-suited, beautiful—


a smudge like a bird

with its primitive body. 





When my father disappeared

finally with the crows,


I listened to a Norfolk Southern 

emerging each night from


the darkness, like a mystical beast 

or demigod, and grew as lonely 


as the coyotes ghosting the field’s 

edge with their low-slung bodies.


And I wore the skin of dreaming, 

the sounds of crickets intangible 


in grass, the dusk sky slitting 

the throats of the clouds.


And, come summer, water

flooded the river bank, 


claiming possession of the field.

I tried to be the low-slung


clouds skimming the land 

but never touching, and I listened


for the syntax of immensity, 

summoned the geography 


of raindrops offering

the smallness of their need 


against the roof. 

And still my thoughts


were wasps slipping in 

and out of the paper hive.


My mother told me that certain 

sounds were memories,


were sewn shut like a mouth

or maybe eyes. And I watched


the sky shirr the last faint stars

into pale gray, a bloom of ice 


making stone come winter 

of the river, the wind naming 


the land the way the earth 

dreams a coming fluency of snow.


Doug Ramspeck is the author of four poetry books. His most recent collection, Original Bodies, was selected for the Michael Waters Poetry Prize and is published by Southern Indiana Review Press. Two earlier books also received awards: Mechanical Fireflies (Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize), and Black Tupelo Country (John Ciardi Prize). Individual poems have appeared in journals that include Southern Review, Kenyon Review, Slate, and Georgia Review. Ramspeck is a recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award. An associate professor at The Ohio State University at Lima, he directs the Writing Center and teaches creative writing.