“The Long Dead” by Doug Ramspeck

Doug Ramspeck


Mostly we smoked with our backs
to the fence, watching our classmates
filing out from the school grounds,
or we exchanged pills for a handful
of dollars, or we made rude remarks
to the girls we liked. One was named Marlene,
and nine years later she took her own life
in a bathroom of an apartment house
where she was living with her boyfriend
and their son, though back in high school
she would give us the finger or pretend
she might flash us. Her brother ended up
doing time for check kiting—a term
I didn’t know until he went away for it—
and decades later I saw him at a YMCA
with his clothes off, as fat as a walrus,
and he reminded me of a time we’d almost
stolen a car then had chickened out,
reminded me of a time we drove
to Wisconsin where the drinking age
was eighteen. Apparently he struck a car
in the parking lot before we headed back,
though I had no memory of the accident.
Mostly I nodded while he stood with a towel
draped over his shoulder, and we talked
about the long dead, including his sister,
and I imagined my back against the fence
as she was walking by, and I remembered how
she would turn as we called out, her mouth
undecided whether it were angry or amused,
and the clouds above her seemed a reliquary,
the earth spinning out on its wheel.

from Rattle #61, Fall 2018


Doug Ramspeck: “Sleep, in my childhood, was a wonderfully blank wall, but now there are so many fitful moments. And as inconvenient as this is, it is good for my poetry. Ideas often occur to me when I am on the borderline between sleep and waking, and ‘The Long Dead’ is an example. Insomnia may be a cranky and inconvenient muse, but I’ll take it.” (web)

Rattle Logo