Doug Ramspeck has recently been awarded the 2007 John Ciardi Prize for Poetry for his collection of poems Black Tupelo Country. He teaches at the Ohio State University at Lima, and his poems have appeared in numerous journals including West Branch, Confrontation Magazine, Connecticut Review, Seneca Review, Rattle, and Hunger Mountain.
Born Under a Caul
There is too much to remember. Someone dies if you
kill a screech owl, throw an axe over your left shoulder,
dream of marriage when you are already married.
Itís more complicated than people seem to think.
Howling dogs mean death. Apples pecked by birds
are always poisonous. Donít count graves, rock
an empty chair, look at the moon through a buttonbush.
And watch all dreams. Dreaming of yellow leaves
floating to the ground means terrible illness.
Dreaming of a woman with unkempt hair promises woe.
And if sheís old and cradling an infant itís death again.
Itís always death again. Donít touch the will-oí-the-wisp
or it will lure you down to the river and drown you.
Donít let the pregnant woman lift two arms above her head.
And sprinkle salt around the house to ward off spirits.
Beware of mixing crow feathers, snake bones, horsehair.
Keep your amulets away from saltpeter and persimmon.
Remember the foxglove, the spreading dogbane,
the lupine, the celadines, the common gumweed,
the houndís tongue, the pennywort, and the dewthread.
Remember all of that. Remember it and keep it always in
your thoughts. Remember it though it still wonít be enough.
This is our measure. We walk at dawn on
this narrow slip of sand. The sea levels into
gray haze then disappears. I remember
last July when I came visiting: your belly sloped
like a wave we hoped would swell and swell
then finally crest. Now gulls dart across the shore.
We dream of windless seas the way we once
dreamed of our deliverance. Tonight, I tell myself,
we will drink scotch whiskey. Outside your open
windows, the surf will murmur and complain; we will
listen like doctors to a tide inside the chambers of a
heart. We will calculate ourselves and accept that we
are simple as salt, as impermanent as spray, which
is why we walk each morning on this sand.