ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Three Poems by Charles Rammelkamp

Fighting Fair

"If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his genitals, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity." Deuteronomy 25:11-12

Even now, decades later,
I think of Jenny on the playground,
kicking her tormentors in the balls
when they tried reaching up her dress,
all of us just hitting puberty, or about to,
sixth-graders on the cusp of junior high,
not really sure what sex was about
or how to go about it,
but excited by it nonetheless.

Mister Watson, the principal,
called Jenny into his office
when Bobby and Rick told on her,
both of them writhing on the ground,
tears in their eyes, squeezing themselves
into a fetal position against the pain.

Too proud to explain her actions,
Jenny spent the next week in detention,
scrubbing the blackboards,
pounding the chalk out of erasers,
sneezing against the dust.

What would I have done
if Mister Watson had asked me
what had really happened?
I wanted to think I'd defend her,
but would I have stuck with my own tribe?
The thought tortured my conscience.
I had a big crush on Jenny,
and had I been bolder,
I might have tried reaching under her skirt, too.


Will You Still Be Sending Me a Valentine?

Pamela and I are basically naked
when we encounter one another
at the swimming pool this morning –
she in a form-fitting one-piece,
me in my nylon tank trunks,
models on the showroom floor.

We haven't seen each other in a while,
so it's like a little reunion,
even if we are just casual acquaintances.
"I've been swimming at the Canton club,"
she explains, "but they've closed it now.
How is your daughter?"

And that's when I remember Pam,
a fit woman in her fifties, I judge,
is a therapist at a local hospital,
and my daughter, in her third year now,
had been applying to medical schools
when we used to see each other here.

I blurt, "I'm a grandfather now,"
because it's the big news in my life
since the last time we talked,
my other daughter having had a child of her own.

"You don't look old enough
to be a grandfather," Pam marvels,
and that's when I become aware
of our basic nakedness.
I stammer, speechless, a sixty-four-year-old man
reduced to adolescence, as if
I'd just wrecked my parents' car,
and Pam, sensing my awkwardness,
scuttles out to the women's locker room,
a sportscar scooting off the exit ramp.
"Good to see you!" she calls over her shoulder.

 "Thanks!" I call, ambiguous, belatedly
acknowledging her apparent compliment.
"Great to see you, too!"



In Boende, on the Tshuapa River,
in northwest Democratic Republic of Congo,
we nabbed three hunters
carrying the carcasses of bonobos
they'd just hunted down in the jungle.

They claimed they were just trying
to feed their families
by selling bonobo meat,
but poaching an ape's a serious crime.
There's less than fifty thousand bonobos left.
Once millions of apes roamed the African forests.

I'm with the AWDF.
We assist the Congolese authorities
tracking these bastards down.

Bonobos used to be called pygmy chimpanzees.
These ones must have weighed
a hundred pounds each, the males.
They had a female, too, a little smaller.

These three dudes looked to be around twenty.
They were sentenced to several years
in the stifling colonial-era Boende prison.
Sometimes inmates died in there, I'd heard.
"If you spend a lot of time there,"
the Boende prosecutor told us,
"the color of your skin changes."


Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore, where he lives. His most recent books include American Zeitgeist (Apprentice House), which deals with the populist politician, William Jennings Bryan, and a chapbook, Jack Tar's Lady Parts, by Main Street Rag Press. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, is forthcoming from FutureCycle Press.

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