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DELAWARE POETRY REVIEW
Doug Ramspeck
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PTOLEMAIC UNIVERSE

After a full life as a scholar and economist
and jurist and physician and astronomer,
Copernicus retired down to Sarasota. Some mornings
he would take the bus to the beach, walk
across the sand, and gaze out at the quiet
waters of the gulf. Usually, before heading home,
he would treat himself to one scoop of mint chocolate chip
ice cream, though sometimes he would opt for French vanilla,
and once, on a whim, he tried butterscotch macadamia,
which it turned out he didn’t like. And so
the days passed. Never once did he feel the urge
to sneak into a local bookstore to see if they had a copy
of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium,
and never once did he venture onto his condo balcony
after dark to study the stars. He was past all that.
Each remaining year was his. Of course he knew
that some claimed he had ruined things, that Gone
was our Eden, our Privileged Centrist claim,
our Piety, our Poetry. He wasn’t impressed.
Didn’t his bus driver take him daily to the beach?
Didn’t his gulf spread out sleepily before him?
Didn’t he buy his ice cream cone, and lick?

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FATHER
Approximately sixteen million men living today
carry the Y chromosome of the great Genghis Khan.
And yet he would sit on our back porch
every Sunday, lighting his Winston cigarettes
with his Blue-Tip matches, drinking
his Pabst Blue Ribbon, and bullshitting
with my father about some doe they’d
sliced open the week before at the belly,
and—they swore this—how they had found inside
its bloodied innards not a fawn but a half-digested
twenty-dollar bill, which they took to be a sign
from the Spirits that they should get sloppy drunk
and hit on every fat waitress half their age.
I would see them sometimes stumbling out
of the Redbird Inn in their leather armor
and iron helmets, carrying their halberds
and their compound bows made of yak horns,
and they would offer me a sip of fermented
mare’s milk then laugh as I spat it in the gutter.
My father had tried to hang himself
at nineteen, which had damaged his voice box
in a way that had left it forever raspy,
and he would nod and grumble in his deep-voiced way
whenever Temüjin would get a little teary
on our back porch each Sunday and start explaining
how it was not enough to have united the savage
Mongol tribes, to have vanquished his enemies,
to have impregnated their women. I would watch
the mare’s milk drooling down their chins.
I would watch my father stumble up and piss
into the grass. And all I wanted was to be him.

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BYRON IN AKRON

And so my parents exiled me from Cuyahoga Falls.
True, there was that incident with my father’s partner’s daughter,
who had just turned fourteen, and I confess that other dalliance
with my father’s partner’s daughter’s brother, and, yes,
I was caught once more soaping Augusta’s naked back
in the downstairs bathtub, but why our parents interpreted
this as incest is hard to say. The point is that I left high school
and found a job at a pet store near Quaker Square.
No one in the history of pet sales has ever sold a bearded dragon
or a cockatiel with this much passion. Who else can take
a customer arriving for protein enhanced goldfish flakes
and send that customer home with a bull python
or a Yorkshire terrier or two American bobtails?
But still I suffer like Prometheus: the rock, the vulture,
and the chain. No one understands. Only Boatswain,
one of the Newfoundland pups that arrived last week,
senses the heroic burning purity that is my soul.
And so each night after work I walk the streets,
waiting for the stars to wander darkling, for the icy earth
to swing blind and blackening in the moonless air.

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About the Poet
Doug Ramspeck’s poetry collection Black Tupelo Country was selected for the 2007 John Ciardi Prize for Poetry. His poems have appeared in West Branch, Rattle, Confrontation Magazine, Connecticut Review, Nimrod, Hunger Mountain, and numerous other journals. He directs the Writing Center and teaches English at The Ohio State University at Lima.