THE OLD MYTHS
So again. And now. The way the sun sinks
into the horizon. The heart like a decaying
apple on the ground. All the trees in the yard
as upright bones. Then the crows lifting
themselves as auguries, the moon fermenting.
And the memory of the boy who dove
from the limb of a sweetgum tree into the lake.
Broke his neck. And the old men fishing there
at dusk. Married to the reeds. At least in the sense
they gaze into the stalks and say, I believe
it will rain. While behind them, the bitter-tasting
resin is seeping from the tree, like a dark smear.
The sweetgum lifting its ancient arms into the sky.
Not dead but dreaming. Like the possum the boy’s
brother found in late fall seemingly sleeping
in the undergrowth. As though the flies and carrion
beetles had it wrong. The body disappearing
beneath the snow in winter. Returning
in summer: smaller, defleshed, transmogrified
to mud. Here he is. Here I hold him in my arms.
Like this statuary of tupelos and willows beyond
the lake. And the alligator snapping turtle
rising from the depths, its carapace dripping
with green muck. And so: the stain of sky.
The lake a washed corpse he watches sometimes
from the back porch. Any lake is a breath.
And so: like God causing a deep sleep
to fall upon Adam while the rib is removed.
Doug Ramspeck received the 2010 Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize for
Mechanical Fireflies, which will be published in 2011. His first book, Black
Tupelo Country, received the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry and is published
by BkMk Press. A third book. Possum Nocturne, is published by NorthShore
Press. His poems have been accepted by journals that include The Kenyon
Review, Epoch, and Prairie Schooner. He is the recipient of an Ohio Arts
Council Individual Excellence Award. He directs the Writing Center and
teaches creative writing at The Ohio State University at Lima. He lives in
Lima with his wife, Beth, and their daughter, Lee.
About his poems: The writing methods I used for “Exhausted Morning,” “The
Old Myths,” and “The Smallness of Desire” were all the same. For many
years I suffered from severe writer’s block as a fiction writer, and so, when
I switched to writing poetry in 2004, I was determined to find ways to
avoid that crippling and critical voice in my head that made it impossible
to complete more than a page or two of prose without giving up in despair.
There are many approaches I have tried in recent years, but for this particular
set of poems I opened a file called “generating” (you are not writing poems,
I tell myself, just listening to your own random thoughts) and composed
as rapidly as possible, questioning and censoring nothing, jotting down
whatever words flashed into my head and for whatever reason, until I had
filled many pages. Only then did I imagine myself as a scavenger, maybe one
of the crows I so often write about, sorting through the woods and fields
until something caught my eye, some trinket of language or maybe a few
stray lines to carry off.