Fifty Teeth

by Doug Ramspeck

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.

DOUG RAMSPECK is the author of four poetry collections. His most recent book, Mechanical Fireflies (2011), received the Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize. His first book, Black Tupelo Country (2008), received the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry. His poems have been accepted by Slate, The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, AGNI, and elswhere. The recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, he teaches creative writing and directs the Writing Center at The Ohio State University at Lima.