“Gift Skull” by Doug Ramspeck

Doug Ramspeck


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.

from Rattle #30, Winter 2008


Doug Ramspeck: “Two summers ago my daughter found a possum skull in our woods. After cleaning the dirt from it, she left it on the stone steps outside our house, where it remained for a few days before mysteriously disappearing. The poem in this issue is the third or fourth one in which that possum skull has insisted on making an appearance. I think it wants me to write an entire collection about it. I am resisting.”

Rattle Logo