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  • Black Flowers, and: Snow Prayers, and: Winter Country, and: The Art of Morning, and: Confession of Bats, and: Old Men
  • Doug Ramspeck (bio)

Black Flowers

The old men are dreaming of black flowers. They are springing from the earth, down in the oldest part of the woods, or growing from the skin of the trees. And then, by day, the men rise from bed and make their way onto the back porch. It is here where wind unfurls its cloak, undressing the earth, tousling the grass. The men have their memories as hymnals, but still the crows make blossoms of their wings, and oar out above the yard, speaking in tongues. Sometimes grandchildren come to visit, and the old men hold the young ones in their laps and speak of how, in August, dust can swirl up in a field until it almost seems to form a human shape. Occasionally the wives will sit for a few moments with their husbands, mostly in silence, the straight-edged razor of moon slicing into the empty body of the sky. But mostly the men have the smoke of the clouds to keep them company, clouds that turn white by day, to blood at dusk, to ash and then black flowers in the dark. [End Page 131]

Snow Prayers

The first time my mother pushed me to my knees to pray, snow was falling

outside our living room windows, snow without memory exhausting

the Ohio sky. You come from God-lovingstock, she pointed out when I was older

and remained home Sundays in casual clothes, as though all love

is infinite, as permanent as stone. As a boy I felt uncertain whether prayers

imposed on God an obligation. I thought of the horses along

the fence at the edges of the property, horses with the steam of their breaths

in winter, how they accepted a carrot or apple slice from my palm, and so

would make their way across the field as I approached, drop their great necks

over the wooden slats, their heads bowed. Belief, I imagined, was the nail that holds

the board in place to build the edifice. My mother often prayed while smoking

cigarettes, so that the gray smoke lifted with each prayer toward the ceiling [End Page 132]

and to God, and in my dreams the smoke became the clouds, and God, from that height,

read them like the entrails of a dead beast, or maybe stretched out a hand with

an open palm. It’s in your blood, my mother said, as though the hemoglobin years

were as inexhaustible as snow. We prayed in that snowstorm for my father,

who had fallen from the barn roof, had slipped—or so I imagined—

past the prayers lifting from across the world to God, who must have been

amazed to watch such a flailing of arms, as though the man thought—all evidence

to the contrary—that he could fly. [End Page 133]

Winter Country

I imagined, then, that the dead were like the smell of woodsmoke

in the distance. And always there were signs: the snow as pale

as masks, the attendant wind carving drifts into sharp blades.

The dead must seem obliged to live on inside the coating of winter

ice on naked limbs, in the loop of a sleeping snake curled beneath

a back porch. In my dreams my father burrows into the rotting

log that decays in the primitive loam of the woods. I hear him tapping

with the woodpeckers, hear the torn cry of a coyote at dusk.

All sensation exists on the edge of sleep, this erasure when the eyes

fall shut, the snow you cannot see as it covers up the world. [End Page 134]

The Art of Morning

At sixteen, I believed that love was the closed eye of sky, the insects whispering from tall grass. Here was the language of the body: so many hooks of stars disappearing, so many swallows dipping then skimming low in gray light. My eyelids opened and closed while I watched from a distance a neighbor girl with bare legs gathering laundry from a windy sag of line, her movements like the ripples that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 131-139
Launched on MUSE
2015-06-24
Open Access
No
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