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Voodoo Sonnets


Nothing happened— not my entire life.

The punitive pale clay of the body enacted

the hours the way the marrow of a bone

sleeps inside its chamber. There were Novocain hills

beyond the railroad tracks, sodden cigarette butts

in the ashtray, choleric crows complaining

from the open field. Do you hear what the sky

is asking, how the spinnakers of decades

carry us forward, as distant from ourselves

as something expelled from the tongue,

a language of forgetfulness, this solemn

ventriloquist we carry in our chests? We build

these decades from an artifact of longing,

inscribe each breath inside our lungs.



And if we are sinking, if we are unsocketed by grief,

shriveling the way winter leaves curl

then wither in the woods, like a small basswood

that falls into the arms of a larger hickory,

is held there as primitive as sorrow, then this is the silenced

tongue inside the mouth. The crows smudge

loose of their black bodies. As though what is lost

might undream the final hours, name them as ash.

And later the night-clouds will pass overhead

with human weight, slow-trumpeted. A glossary

of years. Waiting for the wind to blow

through the trees and drown the earth in sound,

so that when we speak it is in the language of two crows

circling and circling back, the language of devouring.



Then here is our voodoo queen, pricking her finger,

watching three red drops slip into her coffee.

She is imagining the body of her lover

congealing over decades into hardened mud.

She loves him the way a straight razor

loves the beard it scrapes, the way sunlight

suffuses the swamp mist come morning.

And placing a coffee cup before him,

she fingers the amulet she wears

around her neck: a body

is a body is a spirit. Before they met,

she constructed him from the black

moon on a black night, dreamed him

from three drops of longing.



Which is why she sings of the bodies

in the field springing from the tongue—

pale green shoots and scents of sex.

Lovers rising from the mud of the earth,

believing they are crows. I reach for you

in sleep and the moon burns my fingers. Even tall

grass dreams. Or say the lovers forsake each other

for clouds drifting past, forget each other for stars,

pale as mushrooms in a dark woods.

Or maybe there is the hush of early morning,

the brief shower of rain that breathes

then stops. For here is nakedness,

the white skirt of fog on bare legs.

This dream of a mouth pressing down.



Then after he devotes himself to her, after it is done,

the voodoo queen dreams only of St. Peter,

smelling of fish, lifting a coffin lid to inky darkness.

The dead awaken from bodily liquefaction,

gothic eyelashes fluttering, releasing

the floodtides: crows opening the sky’s door

at first light above the creek, rat snakes

muscling on their bellies to burrow into loam.

And always the drowsing grass, speechless

in spirit, as human and self-effacing

as a severed tongue—bright as a dog’s penis—

in a pickle jar. Or now the translucent

eye of a dead horse decaying by the fence,

calling forth its frenzy of flies.


Doug Ramspeck‘s poetry collection, Mechanical Fireflies (2011), was selected for the 2010 Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize. His first book, Black Tupelo Country (2008), received the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry. He directs the Writing Center and teaches creative writing at The Ohio State University at Lima.