Doug Ramspeck received the 2010 Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize for Mechanical Fireflies, which will be published in 2011. His first book, Black Tupelo Country, received the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry and is published by BkMk Press (University of Missouri-Kansas City). “Epistemology in Cleveland” and “Retirement Years” appeared in that collection. A third book, Possum Nocturne, is published by NorthShore Press. His poems have been accepted by journals that include The Kenyon Review, Epoch, and Prairie Schooner. He is the recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award. He directs the Writing Center and teaches creative writing at The Ohio State University at Lima, United States. He lives in Lima with his wife, Beth, and their daughter, Lee.
Please visit Doug Ramspeck’s website at: www.dougramspeck.com
In his final years Socrates was living on the streets down by the river.
He slept beneath the underpass, and the smell of exhaust fumes
became for him a kind of synesthesia. Each passing bus played
in his head its Divine chord of Piety or Mysticism or Eros,
and each truck lumbering, thudding across the metal grating
announced viscerally the Soul’s first Bodily Incarnation.
Sometimes at first light he checked the dumpsters outside of Wal-Mart,
and often he stepped inside and engaged the Greeter in a Dialogue.
Was there a difference, he would ask, between Injuring people
and Wronging them? Was Ignorance in itself an Evil? The odd looks
he received deterred him from talking to the children at the school yard
by which he pushed his shopping cart at noon, and the glances from
the teachers often seemed more bitter even than the Hemlock.
Yet only sometimes did he recall Xanthippe, Lamprocles,
Sophroniscus, and Menexenus. Was it not, he daily spoke aloud,
that if a thing has less of Truth it also has less of real essence
and existence? Occasionally a passersby would press Epistemological
coins into his hands, and the weight of them and their impression
was as wondrous as the Eleusinian Mysteries themselves.
After finally returning to Ithaca, O. bought a partial interest in a Cinnabon. It was strange to pass his days at a shopping mall, to watch the crowds mulling all around him, to feel his old bones ache and the sea no longer sway and list beneath him. Often as he went wandering past The Gap or Old Navy or Radio Shack, he marveled at how much his life had changed, and each time he stood behind the cash register he couldn’t fathom how the salty air was now the smell of sticky buns. And while P. stayed home most days to watch her soaps, O. was restless. The sound of garbage trucks chased him from bed each day before first light. And after work when he stopped at The Lotus-Eaters Inn, the beer was flat and stale, the barmaids were homely as Polyphemus, and his fellow patrons were as tiresome as those suitors of P.’s he’d had to kill. Often late at night he dreamed he was talking to the dead, but they didn’t have much to say, and even when he bought a ram on eBay he couldn’t bring himself to slaughter it, not when it gazed at him with such rheumy eyes. More and more he began imagining sneaking Circe’s secret potion into the Cinnabon dough, but already half his customers were fat as swine, and in any case he no longer saw the point. So what if the mannequins at Victoria’s Secret reminded him faintly of the Sirens? There was little point in being lashed to any mast. He was past all that. He was washed up. Too often at the end of the day he walked out into the parking lot and wept. And when his birthday came and P. bought him a dog, it was more than he could bear. A profound melancholy gripped him as he locked himself in the bathroom and sat on the bathtub rim. Poor lost Argos, he thought. Poor lost me. Everything finally came to ruin. And all that awaited were those dark rivers of the Underworld.
All poems on this post: © Doug Ramspeck
Published with the permission of Doug Ramspeck