Doug Ramspeck

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poetry collection, Black Tupelo Country, was selected for the 2007 John Ciardi Prize for Poetry and is published by BkMk Press (University of Missouri-Kansas City). His chapbook, Where We Come From, is published by March Street Press. His poems have appeared in journals that include West Branch, Rattle, Confrontation Magazine, Connecticut Review, Nimrod, Hunger Mountain, and Hayden’s Ferry. He directs the Writing Center and teaches creative writing and composition at The Ohio State University at Lima. 




Three Love Problems




Beatrice, as usual, was pissed.  Dante bought a bottle the night before then played drinking games with himself in the motel room while watching HBO.  Finally, mercifully, he passed out but then awoke to tell her he’d dreamed that she, his dear sweet benedetta Beatrice, was sleeping in the Lord’s arms, sleeping while dressed only in a crimson cloth, and when she came awake she was holding in her hands his flaming heart, and she ate of it.  The dream was supposed to be romantic, but it occurred to her right then she’d had enough.  She was tired of playing the Cosmic Good Girl whose very presence altered the sun and moon and stars.  She longed to kick his sorry hung-over ass into the deep end of the pool then drown him like a stupid, rabid dog.




Petrarch is the day manager at the Motel 6.  Laura is a maid.  She has been watching Petrarch watch her for many months, though he will not speak to her unless he is looking at his shoes.  And once when she was in his office emptying his waste basket, she saw a part of a poem he was composing: 


And blessed be the first sweet agony

I felt when I found myself bound to Love,

the bows and arrows that have pierced me,

the wounds that reach the bottom of my heart.


All the maids laugh at him, of course.  And just that morning when their hands

brushed while they were both reaching for the employee’s coffee pot, he raced toward his office as though he’d been infected by the plague.




On the second floor in a room across from the ice machine, Keats and Fanny are eating Cheerios from Styrofoam bowls.  A moment earlier Fanny made the most innocent of remarks that the selling date on the small carton of milk had expired, and Keats began mumbling about how all of us have expiration dates.  It was one of his usual foul, black moods.  Snap out of it! she wanted to tell him as milk drooled in a desultory fashion down his chin.  He kept saying he had accomplished nothing in his life that meant his name would be writ in anything but water.  It was all so lame.  She had been thinking for some time now that he ought to be on Zoloft or Prozac or Wellbutrin, but mostly what he needed, she concluded—like eve ry man—was a swift boot upside his head.





The Good Sick



They say it is the consecrated bruise,

the forgotten smell of earth’s sulfur,

the prolific weeds burgeoning

out of the needle into your vein;

but sometimes as the black tar

is congealing and purifying your blood

into the heroin swamp, as the Great Rush

transforms your limbs to stone

and your spirit into ether,

as though the body is too weak

for some earthly pleasures,

the corporeal contents of your belly

offers itself as sacred spew into the world,

sometimes consecrating your shirt

or splattering its myrrh and incense

at your feet.


So this morning when I find

some chicken wings in a dumpster

near De Soto Park and carry them with me

to a bench so I can watch the eternal

migration of the Mississippi toward=2 0the sea,

and then, a short while later, am down

on my knees and depositing the contents

of my stomach into the grass,

each racking spasm like the first convulsions

of life bubbling upward from the primal stew,

and then the joggers going past


make a wide respectful berth around

this glistening stain, and the Memphis sunlight

shimmers in this liquid gift brought

forth from the depths of who I am,


I cannot help but feel emptied

of a fever, as thin and pure as though

my bones have been scraped and bleached

a perfect white, as though the bodily self

has stripped itself at last of the cloak

of flesh, and here I am, in this single instant,

as ethereal and ancient as any river. 




Mountain Tomb



Are the dead like this?  We walked at dusk

along the mountain ridge, watching

the belted kingfisher scudding like a prayer

above the stream.  The rocks were brown

beneath the surface, though earlier

we had stood beside the furry white catkins

of the pussy willow, had watched

the river otter dashing pell-mell to its den.

We were shape without form,

the water thrush whistling its staccato

verdict.  The earth spun for us

like a would-be lover desperate to impress.

There had been a sweetness overnight to the burning

wood inside our cabin, but now we climbed

into the lupine and the fireweed.  We pretended

love ascended with us to the heights.

At twilight the valley below turned

dark as memory, and a mist dipped

like a bruised cloud along the twisting stream.

Then the moon came out, jaundiced,

one-eyed, glowing down upon

the lofty mountain tomb.