“One True Poem” by Doug Ramspeck

Doug Ramspeck


The deer this time of year are gray. I see them
near the railroad tracks. What I like about them
is how they flee at the first sign they are observed.
But the one today is full-sized, on its side in the bar
ditch, with a white belly, its neck bent, smudges
of red in the snow like dropped handkerchiefs.
I have been thinking about how often my students
arrive at my office to show me poems they have written.
How often they tell the background story, how they
dressed up experience in the skin of a dead deer,
how they splayed themselves in a bar ditch for everyone
to see. Occasionally they weep, wiping their noses
with their fingers, their insides spilling raw at
the roadside, their necks lolling. Sometimes a single
salty drop falls to the handwritten page and stains it,
leaving a blue ink splotch, as though all sorrow
is a smudge. They want to be that poor deer
where the snow is coming down, dropping out
of the sky, making of the body a mound to be buried
in white, the smooth belly the same white as the snow,
as though a deer might enter the landscape, become
the landscape. To be that one true poem, the one
where you bleed a little on the snow. But tomorrow
I will remind my students that there is a weak sun
in this January sky, an old woman with b.o. they stood
behind once while taking the Sacrament, these Ohio
factories with their broken windows and the grass
in summer spilling through the cracks in the cement.
Please, I will say, there is more to write about than dying
grandmothers, a boyfriend who left you, a winning shot
in the state finals, a first sexual experience, an alcoholic
father who made your mother jump once from
a rowboat into Grand Lake St. Mary’s because she’d
forgotten the buns for the hotdogs. Just once let
your poems run wild into the night, like deer rushing
across the road, to feel the aloneness of the body, the way
the legs move and carry us. One last true poem, the one
where the deer is forever by the roadside, the cars
speeding past, how cold and hard the ground feels,
the snow covering us until the rains arrive come spring
and the body transforms gradually to mud. Together,
I will tell them, we will lift that deer from the bar ditch
and tumble it over the edge into the river, like in that
Stafford poem I assigned last week, though my
students all asked the same thing, over and over,
the same thing they always ask: is the story true?

from Rattle #34, Winter 2010


Doug Ramspeck: “Given the content of ‘One True Poem,’ I feel strangely obliged to confess which parts of my poem are ‘true.’ I did not come across a dead deer before composing the work. My students do tear up sometimes and want everything they write to be confessional. I do plead with them to try something else. One student did write about her mother being forced from a rowboat because she forgot the hotdog buns. I did not assign Stafford to my students. Okay? Okay?” (web)

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