Published by: NorthShore Press, Distributed by University of Akron Press
Release Date: 2010
Buy the Book: University of Akron Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound
The speakers in Possum Nocturne imagine the landscapes of their days as alive with portentous meaning. These are characters who are convinced that a hoot owl whispers secret messages to those who will listen, that a black tupelo limb is an augury, that three crows in a black willow tree portend death, that a dry stream bed suggests that a spouse or relative will have a miscarriage, and that we can read our futures in the entrails of a pickerel frog or in a hognose snake skin found draped beside a river bank.
“With Possum Nocturne, Doug Ramspeck adds his rich voice to the chorus of poetry flourishing in the heartland ranging from the American Southwest to the Midwest. He knows the names of what grows here—leatherleaf and buffalo burr, purple gallinule and cottonmouth—and knows the ways of their living and dying. This new poet knows his tropes and line-breaks, too, for his work shines with the burnish of rigorous craft: like Ted Kooser or John Knopfle, Doug Ramspeck sings tight songs and tells strong stories. And like no one else he gives us the clarity of insight that grows out of alert, sympathetic living: ‘We judge an hour by its / proximity to longing,’ he says in ‘Marsh.’ I am grateful for the gifts of this fine book.”
“Doug Ramspeck’s superb new collection Possum Nocturne is a study of moonlight reading the water, of ghosts whispering just out of hearing, of skulls that prophecy from dark sockets. What do these signs and totems intend for us? ‘The scooped weight of memory / washing across / the hollowed fur.’ Ramspeck is by turns seer, trickster, medium through the enchanted and harrowing night. I think highly of these poems, which by turns frighten and delight me. ‘Land stares at you.’ From the first page to the last, the poet recovers the bones from a covetous earth, Listen to them, he says. Here’s how.”
“Vestigial, atavistic, the poems in this fine collection are wonderfully troubling. Ramspeck is a scavenger, a nocturnal one with fifty teeth and a hairless snout for rooting through our residue, our swamps, our feral evenings. Now is the hour of the possum. You won’t put this book of poems down, but bring a flashlight and steel your nerves.”
For years she kept it hanging like a mute wind chime
from a sweetgum limb near her tomato plants.
A bleached white possum skull she’d discovered
with her fingers while planting seeds. The dead mother us,
she thinks each time she sees it, as though we suckle
at the open eye socket, as though fifty teeth are the only
occultation we can know. Once she watched a marsh hawk
struck by a pickup while it was swooping low across the road.
The bird lived for a few moments in the drainage ditch:
twitching like an epileptic, gathering itself in the great shroud
of wings. Sometimes the wind sways the skull as though the ghost
in it has come alive. She might be watching from the window
or kneeling before her vines, and the gift of the moving skull
reminds her of rocking a child in a cradle, reminds her
of gripping your own knees and rolling forwards then backwards
and then weeping. After her infant son died, her breasts
were still heavy and swollen with the milk. She imagined
it as ghost milk. And after the hawk grew still, she stood
at the side of the road and thought of the possum
waddling once out of the woods and now swaying
as a skull on a string, the wind rolling through its open
eye sockets and along the great profusion of its teeth.