I’VE LIVED TOO LONG
“Everybody congratulates me on being ninety-nine,”
Grandpa lamented. “But all it means is:
I’ve outlived all my friends;
all I have is ghosts and memories.
“Everybody I shared experiences with,
confidences, secrets – all gone.
They may not have happened at all.
That old philosophical conundrum:
If a tree falls in a forest and nobody hears it,
did it make a sound?
“I used to assume how great it would be
to outlive your grandmother,
my brothers and my sister Sarah.
But now, there’s nobody.
The guys I grew up with,
the friends I made in college.
“And you know what?
Now all I’ve got are memories
nobody shares with me,
children and grandchildren
who regard me as something in a glass case.”
I didn’t know what to say.
The moment swelled like a blister,
the silence awkward.
At last I stammered,
Grandpa burst out laughing,
hiding his face behind his hands,
spindly fingers like bars in a cage.
Or was he crying?
CONTEST OF AFFECTIONS
Gian and Tony invited me
to the Nantucket Spaghetti Sauce Contest
held every August, attracting hundreds.
A beautiful summer day, plenty of beer,
and the spaghetti.
When I hit it off with a pretty young woman,
I wallowed in the luck that brought me there,
like a guardian angel guiding me.
Robin bubbled with vigor and quick wit,
pale blue eyes invited confidence;
the large crowd shrouded us in intimacy.
Already I could envision asking her for a date.
Late afternoon the contest began.
Mary Ann and Stewart had spent the day
preparing their secret sauces
like furtive alchemists concocting precious potions.
One was ladled over noodles on a green paper plate,
the other over pasta on red.
When I cast my vote for the red,
Robin looked at me as if I’d farted.
“It’s so tart,” she gasped, “so fruity.”
It turned out I’d picked Stewart’s sauce
while Robin had voted for her friend Mary Ann’s.
Had she known all along whose was whose,
voted for the person and not the sauce?
And then suddenly it was as if
we were members of a Civil War family,
separated by conflicting loyalties to blue or gray,
Republicans and Democrats still fighting
over the election between Bush and Gore.
Her last words,
when the party was over,
and we said our goodbyes
felt like a cool limp handshake.
“Maybe I’ll see you around.”
NUMBER NINE DREAM
My panic holds a knife at my throat.
Why did I drive into that snowbank?
I didn’t have to.
Can I somehow take it back?
The car flipped onto its back
like a frantic insect
waving its legs in futile alarm.
I ask an attendant for help –
he’s wearing a uniform,
but I’m not sure what he does –
gesturing back to my cart.
I see it’s rightside up now,
but there’s a huge dent in the roof.
I can’t find the keys,
hands rooting through pockets like burrowing animals.
Did I lose the key when the car flipped,
when I was upside down,
pinned like a prisoner by my seatbelt?
But now I’ve found my key;
it’s my wallet I can’t locate,
with the driver’s license.
But why do I need my license?
Now I can’t find the cell phone.
The attendant still hasn’t noticed me.
Maybe he doesn’t care.
Sanity comes in like a cop
flashing his badge.
What a relief to wake up.
Anxiety dreams are the worst.
A WHOLE NOTHER EXPERIENCE
As if having sex, regular and often,
weren’t already a new, unfamiliar sensation –
against the gymnasium wall at midnight,
in the stairwell of Josie’s dorm,
in the seats of the movie theater,
she in my lap as we both faced the screen,
under the elm trees on the quad,
in beds, cars, parks, swimming pools –
when my girlfriend invited me to spend
the Thanksgiving holiday with her family
in rural North Dakota, she warned:
“It’ll be a whole nother experience.”
A girlfriend! Never before going to college
had I paired off in such intimacy
with another person, sharing secrets, plans,
enjoying the sheer physical reality of it.
Always it had been a hunt, a furtive one-night deal,
an oasis in the desert, as if not even making eye contact,
but when I met Josie at a mixer the start of sophomore year –
coup de foudre! Love at first sight! –
we were inseparable as two chemicals
swirled together in a beaker in a lab.
So we go to her parents’,
an hour and a half flight from Chicago to Bismarck,
her dad picking us up at the airport.
“Your mother’s going to die when she sees
the guy who’s sticking his cock in your mouth,”
Dale commented out of the corner of his mouth
to his daughter in the backseat
as we drove west on 94 toward Killdeer,
as if I weren’t even there.
Did he just say what I think he said?
I expect an explosion, war to break out,
tears, shouting, recriminations, violence,
but when that doesn’t happen,
just the car scrolling west into the fading sun,
all at once I wonder:
Why will she die?
An Apache headband hugging his forehead,
holding his blond hair out of his face,
a black-ink Ché stenciled on his red tee-shirt,
Cushing sucked a joint
while Lennon on the turntable sang
“Imagine all the people
living life in peace.”
“You may saaay that I’m a dreamer,”
Cushing sang along, passing the joint to Adams.
He’d just taken a twenty
from his roommate’s desk drawer,
Sedgewick out on a date with a sorority girl.
“Maybe you should put it back,” Adams cautioned,
appealing to Cushing’s pragmatic sense.
“He’s obviously going to think
you took it.
“He’s a pig,” Cushing dismissed the warning.
“He’s out right now with Suzy Creamcheese.”
Cushing imagined he was striking a blow.
For the people.
Charles Rammelkamp edits The Potomac, an online literary magazine – The Potomac — A Journal of Poetry & Politics He is Prose editor for BrickHouse books in Baltimore, where he lives. His latest book is a collection of poems called MATA HARI: EYE OF THE DAY (Apprentice House, Loyola University) and another book, AMERICAN ZEITGEIST, has been accepted by Apprentice House as well.