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.