The Owl That Carries Us Away

The Owl That Carries Us Away

by Doug Ramspeck


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These twenty-nine stories explore coming of age largely in the contemporary Midwest, but they echo such primal struggles as mortality, the hunt, growing up with parents who face desperation, and just-out-of-reach dreams for the future.

A young boy finds a possum skull and brings it home as compensation for a family tragedy; a newly-married woman imagines that mushrooms are growing from her husband’s body; and a woman who absconds with her sister’s baby envisions a life for them in Florida. Ramspeck never flinches as his characters confront violence, cruelty, love, and tragedy in ways that are as surprising as they are unsentimental.

“What Ramspeck succeeds in here is to show us, in poignant, lyrical, but never fussy prose, what everyday fortitude looks like, what it’s like to look hardship straight in its eye and keep pressing on,” writes Michael Griffith, author of Trophy and Bibliophilia, in his advance praise for the book.

Novelist and short-story writer Billy Lombardo selected the book for the G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction. “Ramspeck creates a silence so thick, you flinch to hear dialogue. What isn't silent, is snow-muffled, and what snow there is, is blood-spotted,” writes Lombardo in his foreword.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781943491131
Publisher: BkMk Press of the University of Missouri-Kansas City
Publication date: 04/01/2018
Pages: 184
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Doug Ramspeck is the author of several books, including THE OWL THAT CARRIES US AWAY (BkMk Press at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, 2018), his first book of fiction, and the poetry collections ORIGINAL BODIES (Southern Indiana Review Press, 2014) and MECHANICAL FIREFLIES (Barrow Street Press, 2011). His first book, BLACK TUPELO COUNTY (BkMk Press at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, 2008), received the John Cardi Prize. He teaches at The Ohio State University at Lima.

Read an Excerpt

The Owl That Carries Us Away

The boy is washing the possum skull with his mother’s hose. He found it in the mud beside the river. It was half-buried and stubborn, even when he poked it with a stick, even when he tried to pry it free with his fingers. Now he cleans the dirt out of the sockets with the spray of the hose. Pours the water through the teeth. Watches the water sliding across the pale bone. Hears the water splashing against the stone steps. The light snow that is falling is bone colored, too, as though the great skeleton of sky has broken into shards and is coming down, falling out of the fat and low-slung clouds, and the boy carries the skull through the kitchen door, hiding it behind his back. Something is frying on the stove, lifting smoke, sizzling a complaint, but his mother isn’t there to tend to it. The room has been left by itself, the glasses and plates abandoned on the kitchen table. The boy hurries through the kitchen and up the narrow stairs with the skull. The stairway in the ancient house—built shortly after the Civil War—reminds him in its narrowness of the dark passage of a cave. He enters his bedroom and closes the door behind him. He lies on his bed and holds the skull on his chest. Strokes his hand across the hard, smooth bone. Feels for ridges and bumps and openings and crevices. Thinks of a cat purring beneath the rhythm of a palm. He pets the skull until he hears his mother calling out, and then he pushes it under the bed, far back in the darkness.

“Wait here,” he says.

At dinner the boy sneaks looks at his father while he is eating. His father’s hair is starting to grow back, but the boy can still see strange patterns and odd lines beneath the thin strands. The scars are puckered and pinkish on the white skin. Sometimes they seem to trail off like snakes. Other times they look like railroad tracks. When the bandages first came off, the boy was reminded of a swollen pumpkin, of something that only vaguely resembled the father he had known. His father stabs at his meat with his fork and cuts off a small piece with his knife. The pork chop looks slippery on his plate. He gets a small piece loose and lifts it to his mouth. Chews. The exertion of the chewing leaves him breathless. The scars shift from pink to a deeper red. He puts down his knife and fork and leans back in his chair, leaving most of the food untouched on his plate. He leans back in his chair and says something, but his voice is garbled. The words sound like they are spoken through rocks. The boy sips his milk and looks out the window at the snow coming down.

“Look at that, you two,” his mother says. “It’s snowing.”

The boy imagines the possum waddling at some point down by the river. Its bald, long tail. Its moon-white face. The possum dying by the river, then shedding its body until all that was left in the mud was its skull.

Table of Contents

Foreword 9

The Owl That Carries Us Away 11

The Visible World 23

Omphalotus Olearius 27

Stone Garden 31

Bonjour Tristesse 35

Messenger 39

The Second Coming 51

Spring Snow 55

Little Dancer Aged Fourteen 63

Water Tower 65

Crow Death 69

Slippery Creek 71

Ocho Rios 83

The World We Know 85

Old Places 93

Folklore 101

Five Grackles 105

Old Man 113

Bedtime Story 117

Into the Woods 119

The Green Bridge 123

The Old Worlds 141

Dog Memories 143

Confessions of a Cloud 145

Three Crows 153

Opuntia 155

Baobab 159

Jamaican Snow 163

Crow 179

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