ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Charles Rammelkamp

The Vending Machine Tango

When the daily trivia fact dropped
into my email inbox
like a Snickers bar rattling onto the plate,
and I read that vending machines kill
thirteen people every year,

I remembered the night shift breakroom
at the record factory when I was in college,
wiped out from six non-stop hours
putting stacks of lps into sleeves,
the sleeves into boxes, the boxes onto pallets;
the heat, the stuffy air, the tedium.

I plunked my coins into the slot,
selecting the letter-number combination
for the package of Fritos,
only to watch it get stuck in the coils
like a fly trapped in a web
behind the aquarium window,
as if the snack machine were flipping
me the bird.

Enraged with the sense of injustice
only an exhausted factory worker can feel,
I bear-hugged the machine
as if grabbing a fat girl at a dance,
the two of us tangoing across the linoleum,
under the fluorescent lights,
shaking it to loosen the corn chips.

The mammoth lost balance,
toppled over onto me,
the back of my head smacking the floor.

“Jesus Christ!” my co-workers yelled,
pulling the fat lady off of me.
I’d get a reprimand from management
for losing my temper, damaging property,
but at least I got the damn Fritos!


Notes from the Upper East Side

Me? I’ve been isolating for years.
It’s what writers do, right?
This quarantine business is no hardship.
If I don’t have to go to a baby shower,
I don’t have to buy a pastel skirt suit.

Limiting social contact is easy for me,
but I have turned to Instagram
to connect with old friends
I haven’t seen since the pandemic.

Last month I came across a photo on Instagram,
an old boyfriend from 1992!
My God, I thought,
what’s Julian doing at the Insurrection?

Mystified? You could say that.
Why, we used to have martinis at Bemelmans.


Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore, where he lives with his wife Abby. He contributes a monthly book review to North of Oxford and is a frequent reviewer for The Lake, London Grip and The Compulsive Reader. A poetry chapbook, Mortal Coil, was published in 2021 by Clare Songbirds Publishing and another, Sparring Partners, by Moonstone Press. A full-length collection, The Field of Happiness, was published in 2022 by Kelsay Books.

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