Nick Patten © 2008 All Rights Reserved
So say that the voice
of the mountain stream
finds her through the open
cabin window. Here is the last
residue of memory.
Her father taking her to the river
in snow to watch the otters
sliding down the bank.
Childhood is not a prophecy
or divination. Look: the waterthrush
is pausing on a stone in the shallows.
So generations pass. Her last child
was buried below the mountain
in heavy heat. How do we know
that the hemlocks and willows
aren’t merely sleeping?
she asked her mother as a child,
as though a life can hold itself
in abeyance for that long.
All night the stars gather
at the ridge’s shoulder
to graze along the dark grass,
and the moon glows
through her window
and makes her think of burial wrappings:
her husband with the tie
tight as a second Adam’s apple
at his throat. What is it like to be that old?
she asks her skin as cracked
and dry as a stream bed
in a drought. It doesn’t know.
The sky smells like rain, she thinks.
You play the memory over and over.
It never leaves the stone in the shallows.
Where else could it go?
One Hundred Trains
The power went out in our house
when I was nine and for four days
winter found us. The ice storm
coated the maple trees in pure
cocoons of ice. The fallen limbs
were strewn like bones. My father
built a great fire from which the heat
hollowed us, scooped us out, then filled
us. That summer my brother and I caught
bullfrog tadpoles the size of sparrows
in the fetid pond. Nothing lasts. The sky
opens and the rain leaves pockmarks
in the water. The trains lift along the ridge
then disappear. Later my father admitted
how every train was a temptation—
to climb aboard and let them carry you,
to lie on the tracks and let them carry you.
Later I would drive by the house and imagine
myself beyond the upstairs window
beneath the chimney. Sometimes my brother
and I would take off our caps at dusk
and throw them in the air so bats
would chase them, or we would walk along
the ridge to watch the trains. They roared
as another life across the bridge. They roared
over the river and hollowed out our bones.
Doug Ramspeck’s poetry collection, Black Tupelo Country, was selected for the 2007 John Ciardi Prize for Poetry. His poems have appeared in West Branch, Rattle, Confrontation Magazine, Connecticut Review, Nimrod, Hunger Mountain, and numerous other journals. He directs the Writing Center and teaches English at The Ohio State University at Lima.
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