Charles Rammelkamp

My Most Memorable Birthday

Sometimes I think I remember
my first birthday, fifty-three years ago,
my family’s told me about it so often;
it’s like I was there!

A warm day the beginning of November,
all the kids out back,
friends of my brother and sister, mainly,
trading the blindfold
as they all took turns swatting at the piñata
swinging like a hanged man
from the maple tree,
each one lunging in turn
with the long broom handle,
parents drinking coffee and lemonade
while the kids screamed in delight.

They all heard the sharp snap of a gunshot,
or claimed they did,
and the almost instantaneous shattering
of the storm door out front,
a squeal of tires.

There wasn’t panic
so much as disbelief and disappointment:
the kids all wanted the candy, the cake,
the party favors,
but my mom called the police.
Everybody stayed, witnesses
who didn’t actually see anything.

The cops found the bullet in the kitchen.
It must have driven through the living room wall,
slowed by the resisting plaster and wood,
hit the refrigerator and dropped.
Nobody ever found out what happened;
my parents didn’t have enemies they knew about.

Me? I was asleep in the nursery upstairs.
“A birthday party for a one-year old?
He’ll never remember it.  Why bother?”
How many times have I heard that over the years?

The Exile’s Return

Two months after I retired,
I had lunch with a former colleague,
meeting at a modest restaurant
in the neighborhood where we’d worked.

The closer I got to our rendezvous,
the more I felt
like an animal that had escaped its cage,
only to be recaptured,
tugged back by the leash.

Simon was his old jovial self.
We embraced when we met,
long lost comrades –
we’d always been on the same side
in the endless games of office politics.

But over our sandwiches,
as he recounted the office intrigues,
caught me up on projects
that once brought on anxiety
like a stretched rubber band,
my eyes watered
as I tried to suppress my yawn
while keeping my mouth closed.

“We all missed you at Bernie’s funeral,”
Simon murmured into the silence.

“Bernie’s funeral?”
Gaping, mouth full of egg salad.
Suddenly alert.
Bernie Knapp?  Dead?

“You didn’t know? 
Heart failure at the Jersey shore,
visiting his son’s family.
He was buried last Tuesday.”

Bernie dead!  Buried!
We’d shared an off ice for years.
I felt the bite of the leash on my throat.
So much for escape.


“You’re the kind of man
who’s not taking hair loss sitting down.”
The voice on the television commercial 
sounds like a Marine recruiter.
It’s six in the morning at the gym.
I’m in the locker room,
changing into my swimsuit.

The authoritative voice speaks
of omega-3 fatty acids,
different kinds of hair follicles,
anemia, metabolic disorders,
technical language meant to impress.

I remembered my anguish,
hair starting to fall out at eighteen,
in an age when the Beatles and the Stones
were popular, hippies all over the place,
long glorious hair down the back,
sprouting out all over the head.
Me?  I felt a sick helplessness when I found
strands on the shoulders of my shirts,
coating the pillowcase in  the morning,
thick clumps in the shower drain.

My twin brother was in the same situation;
our mother’s father,
gleaming sleek-headed,
our fates sealed by the maternal gene.

Now my brother savors each day he’s alive,
having been diagnosed
with stage 3 lung cancer.

Charles is the author of A Convert’s Tale (Pudding House), i don’t think god’s that cruel and Go to Hell (March Street Press), Fire Drill!, All Hallow’s Eve and FAME (Snark Publishing), and Mixed Signals (Finishing Line Press).  He edits The Potomac literary journal and serves as fiction edition of The Pedestal, as well as writes reviews regularly for Chamber Four.