ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Charles Rammelkamp

The Third Person

While at the day care lady’s
picking up my daughter after work,
one of the moms, Kathy,
is telling us about an accident
that just happened on Monroe,
a narrow, two-way residential street,
cars parked along the curb
tight as bricks in a wall.

First, a football rolled into the street,
then a boy darted out like a squirrel
between two cars.
The driver of the van
may have been speeding
slightly over the posted limit,
but no way he could have stopped.

Tommy’s father comes in
in the middle of the story.
“That happened to George,” he mutters,
as if in a trance,
his eyes glassy, masking
a terror so profound
we suddenly can’t breathe.

“George was driving up Keswick Road
when the kid ran into the street
chasing a frisbee.
George couldn’t stop in time.”

What really catches our breath
is the way George speaks
in the third person.


My Father Flees 

They Americanized our name
when Papa came to America,
from “Weisz” to “Weiss”—
already the facts elude
the straitjacket of “reality” –
a rabbi, ordained at only twenty-two in 1851.
Studied law at the University of Pest,
his occupation listed as “legal counselor”
on my Hungarian birth certificate.

I was just two years old
when he left us behind in Hungary.
The story I learned:
he’d fought a duel
over an anti-Semitic slur,
killing a prince, fleeing to London
before coming to America.

Rabbi in Appleton, Wisconsin,
when he sent for us two years later,
he led services in a building on College Avenue
(Lawrence University, second co-ed college
in America, Appleton’s pride)
while the congregation raised money
for a new shul.

But he fell out of favor with the machers
too old-fashioned, didn’t speak English,
resisted assimilation, too attached
to his Old World ways.

So Rabbi Mayer Samuel Weiss,
now with seven kids to care for,
out of a job, moved us to Milwaukee,
where he offered his services
as a mohel and a shochet
various cuts of meat
that never added up to rent.

  When we moved to New York,
Papa’s luck didn’t change –
a scholar, not an escape artist –
he wound up cutting linings
for a necktie manufacturer,
forced to sell his precious books,
including the Code of Maimonides,
dying after an operation
for cancer of the tongue.

Author 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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