about the author

Doug Ramspeck is the author of six poetry collections and one collection of short stories. His most recent book, Black Flowers (2018), is published by LSU Press. Four books have received awards: The Owl That Carries Us Away (G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction), Original Bodies (Michael Waters Poetry Prize), Mechanical Fireflies (Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize), and Black Tupelo Country (John Ciardi Prize for Poetry). Individual poems have appeared in journals that include The Southern Review, The Kenyon Review, Slate, and The Georgia Review. He is a two-time recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award. A professor at The Ohio State University at Lima, he teaches creative writing.

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Two Poems 

Doug Ramspeck

Lives of the Mystics

When our Christian Scientist neighbor was dying
of pancreatic cancer, confined mostly to his bed,

suffering and praying, speaking to God,
I was told by my father to mow the man’s lawn

and clean his eaves, to carry his garbage bins
down to the road, to look after his chickens

and feed his horses, all for no pay. Beyond the man’s
barn were a few pale tubular flowers of culver’s root

by the wire fence, clustered and skeletal, and often
there were crows with their earthly meditations

of dark wings. Sometimes the wife called me inside
to feed me unappetizing rhubarb pie or raisin cookies

or cream pudding. Never was I taken upstairs
where the old man was drawing his last breaths,

though I wandered that winter between
our houses, the cistern frozen near the hog pens,

a few tufts of scrub protruding from the snow,
juncos huddling at the feeder by the farmer’s

kitchen windows, his ancient boots on the stoop
by the back door, one upright, one toppled

to its side. The wife informed me in the spring
that her husband’s pain was no more real than

someone calling in a dream, that this earthly life
was a mist that eventually would lift to show us

the Eternal River. I remember biting my tongue
to keep from asking why it mattered, then, whether

I dragged the hose across the lawn to water
the vegetable garden, if I gathered the eggs in a basket

to return to the house. I labored at chores that seemed
the only true and certain thing anywhere, the sweat

on my back and the ache of my muscles a
preternatural vision, the hallucinatory sun the first

and only omniscience. In July when the old man died,
the wife gave to me a sailing boat her husband

had made with his bare hands over the long months
while he was disappearing, and I took it with my friends

down to the quarry, where we set it to sail on the living
waters, and blew it into pieces with cherry bombs.

Long Marriage (Bats)

In the fifth decade
of our marriage,

we discovered bats
living in the attic.

We heard them
in the walls, saw them

flying out and in
at dusk and dawn.

And I dreamed
one night there was

a fire in the distance,
and the smoke

was made of living
breath. And I woke

to the sounds
of your footsteps

in the hall. In another
dream it rained

for twenty years.
And still the earth

was a vessel
for our prayers,

existing like a ghostly
fog above the river,

a cortex of light falling
through the trees

in dead winter.
And even after

the bats were evicted,
we imagined them

still biding their time,
waiting to cross

the salt sea of snow
to find us, the years placid

with passage, the hinge
of the wings oaring

through the darkness
as we slept.

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