Ramshackle Ode

Ramshackle Ode

by Keith Leonard


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A sparkling debut collection from a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet that makes an ecstatic argument for living

Containing joy and suffering side by side, Ramshackle Ode offers elegies and odes as necessary partners to bring out the greatest power in each. By turns celebratory, meditative, tender, and rebellious, these poems reimagine the divisions and intersections of life and death, the human and the natural world, the brutal and the beautiful. Time and again, they choose hope.

From an award-winning young poet in the tradition of Marie Howe, Walt Whitman, Gerald Stern, and contemporary American bard Maurice Manning, Ramshackle Ode presents a new voice singing toward transcendence, offering the sense that, though this world is fragile, human existence is a wonderfully stubborn miracle of chance.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544649675
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 04/01/2016
Pages: 114
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Keith Leonard’s poems have appeared in Best New Poets,Copper Nickel, Gulf Coast, and have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes. A winner of the Beacon Street Prize and scholarships at Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers' Conference, he is currently a Visiting Lecturer in Creative Writing at Indiana University.

Read an Excerpt

That half-moon smooth beam,
I think someone made it because
they had a spine and wanted
to make a stronger one,
and they sent the little skiff
out to sea for years,
and it went on boot-thudded
and shoal-scraped,
and it went on boot-thudded
and shoal-scraped, and it held
all the while like it holds
in the boatyard, though
it is belly-up on blocks
to keep out the rain, now,
and it does rain here,
and did again this morning
when I was walking your dog,
Love, thinking how I, too,
have been boot-thudded
by love, I was my own
storm once, so young
and eager to raise the sail
of my wanting, and I just wanted
to tell you I love this old boat,
this settled-in thing.
Though the rain tastes like nickel
it is not blood, but like blood
makes the child, rain plumps
the melons beneath thick leaves
this summer, and each summer,
and it’s a genius I rarely think of,
this world swelling, the hay field
rising, and I was not ready
for my love to be suddenly
amplified by the ultrasound,
but it was, the little heart drummed
over the speakers, and the room
swelled, and it hurt the good hurt,
and though the June bugs
beat against the night, the sound
is not a heart, but like the heart
it is dumb in its brazen pulse
and smack-the-screen joy,
and like the heart there are billions
here, each alive and mostly well,
here, where two legs pressed
against two legs become six legs —
and that is not an impossible math.
I could believe the world only wants
to double. The hay field rising
into seed. The June bugs’ dumb love
lifting the night to its feet.
First, let me admit I am a counterfeit.
A sleek composite. The fourth
meal of the day is paraphernalia.
Which is another way to say, I learned
how to man, and I worry
when I’m not careful, I drown out
the seven parts of me
with one abominable baritone. Should
sounds so much like shove,
doesn’t it? It gutters the cold rain
and dumps it on your head.
The soil grows whatever it’s fed.
Everything entering the ear takes root.
And speaking of dirt, think
of the dandelion weed —those
little puffs blundering the backyard
with their furry spray lifting to flight.
All it takes is a weak fiasco of wind.
But first, the bulb must bloom yellow —
and pretty even —from a knot
as tight as solitude. And still it scatters
like a fist of warm dice. You too
began curled and cooed awake,
then some blue lung began to chant
a boy should this and a boy should that,
and you shouldn’t listen, little
corn-shuck, it’s a strange song,
mostly sad and hard to dance to.
Good for the strawberry
for wearing all its seeds on its skin —
too few things say here’s all of me
like that —not the apple
and its wooden center stones,
not the peach’s chipped-tooth pit,
not me in my muddy work shirts,
which I generally ditch
after slumping home at the end of the day
the instant I hear the front door click.
So tired I become working days like this,
I could believe the mime’s
gloved hands pressed against
the almost plastic case
placed one foot around him.
Limit is a cocky fellow:
a pallbearer in a vibrant suit.
He named his daughter Bootstrap.
He loves the word “retirement.”
He thinks the myth of Icarus
should be printed on the back
of every birth certificate.
That’s a cautionary tale I think
he’s wrong about. The boy fell. He did.
But what about the blooming hurt
gnawing at his shoulders as he rose?
It must have been excruciating.
His comfort melted long before the wings.
There must have been a moment
he could go no further,
and yet, he did.

Table of Contents

Keel 1

The Doubling 3

Becoming the Boy 5

Strawberries for Dinner 7

Ode to the Grotesque 9

Memorial 10

Osiris Ode 15

The Third Commandment 18

Ode to the Odes 20

Conceiving the Child 22

The Could Be 23

Fiction 25

The Main Event 27

Monarch on Milkweed 28

Ode to Two Syllables 30

Ode to Dreaming the Dead 32

Opening Lecture at the Constellation Institute 36

Elegy 38

Just Like That 40

After Foreclosure 43

The Name of My Banker 46

The Lords and Serfs of Sand and Sea Sovereignty 51

Dead Man Float 53

Grocery Store Manager 54

Ode to Alternatives 56

Honeysuckle 59

A Lexicon to Fill a Rain Gauge 61

The Game as Good Medicine 63

A Brief History of Evolution 66

In this photo, James 69

Ode to the Unsayable 71

A Brief History of Patience 75

In the Headwinds of a Fable 77

Long Gone Ones 79

A Brief History of Silence 80

Near the End 81

Lord 83

Ode to the Ether 84

The Clam 86

Udder 88

Notes 92

Acknowledgments 93

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