Tupelo Elegy

by Doug Ramspeck

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.

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.