Two Poems

by Doug Ramspeck

Tupelo Elegy

The old men remember the hinged wings
of the bats stirring the evening air as augury.
Nail a stuffed barred owl to the barn door to ward
off illness. Keep a cottonmouth skin as a reliquary
in the parlor.
These were days when the alluvial
loam of the oxbow lake gathered as a strange
congealing smell. And while their wives
were gathering yellow pondlilies and epidendrums
to make a potion, the men waded in the shallows
and conjured the alligator snapping turtle,
which lives in mud and breathes mud and is mud.
One dream they had was of the snowy egret
flying above the pregnant woman to curse her,
the white feathers falling like damaged snow,
the golden slippers dancing as an occultation
above their heads. Sometimes in the evenings
the men grow so weary they sit by the lake
and reach out their ancient hands to the dark fog.
They breathe the night air and hold it like a memory
in their lungs. Here is the world after the lightning,
after the sweetgums and tupelos have been singed.
When all that’s left in the nostrils is the smell.

Fifty Teeth

Once, as a child, she found in the woods beyond the stream,
half buried in the soft mud by the forget-me-nots,
a possum skull: rounded as a white moon after the sludge
was fingered and thumbed away, white as insect larvae
feeding on dead flesh: the fifty teeth locked in the death grimace.
Of course the skull engendered her worst dreams:
a hognose snake trapped and writhing in an open eye socket,
talons searing at back flesh and lifting you.

Yet often she fell asleep stroking the smooth skull on her chest
like a purring cat, or probing a finger along every ridge
and slice of sharpened bone, whispering into what once had been
an ear. She imagined the possum laboring out of the woods
into the light as dense as the fog that formed some evenings
at the stream’s base then drifted upwards as something
inconsolable, as one more occultation scaling the mountain
on tired legs. Light so cold it clung to your pale skin
and turned to ice.