April 15, 2024

National Poetry Month 2024: 5 Poems by Charles Rammelkamp

National Poetry Month 2024: 5 Poems by Charles Rammelkamp

We continue this week in NPM with another frequent contributor, Charles Rammelkamp. This collection of Charles’ poems will take you on a narrative journey through the eyes of an interesting and very notable character.

Cab Driver 

Of all the people to almost run over! 
Anybody else, I’d have shrugged an apology, 
been on my way back home to Baltimore. 

I’d come to the intersection  
of H Street and Jackson Place,  
maybe took the corner too sharp, 
veering in toward the curb, 
but I didn’t hit him, didn’t 
even come close to running Coolidge over! 

But then the secret service guy, 
a different one from the one who grabbed Cal’s arm, 
jumped onto my running board, 
startled the hell out of me. 
“Who are you?” I demanded. 
“A secret service agent.” 

He called over to a street cop, 
had me arrested, charged me 
with cutting corners, failing  
to give the right of way to a pedestrian –  
who just happened to be the president. 
They released me on a $5,500 bond, 
for an appearance in traffic court. 

Coolidge? He wasn’t even bothered 
by what the papers called his “narrow escape.” 
Didn’t even tell his staff about it 
until he remembered a few hours later. 

But of course the newspapers 
made a big deal out of it. 
To hear them, I practically sent Cal 
up in the air all the way back  
to the White House, a block away. 

It didn’t help that his wife Grace, 
the First Lady, had almost been hit 
by a motorcycle up in Swampscott, 
Massachusetts, the summer before.   

Three or Four Degrees of Emily Dickinson  
Harvard Law was out – too expensive 
 ($150/year, additional expenses estimated  
in the university catalog as up to $471). 
But the law was my calling.  
What was an Amherst graduate to do? 
John C. Hammond, local lawyer, caught my Grove oration 
at the 1895 graduation ceremonies, 
impressed by my oratorical skills. 
When my old ouden friend Ernest Hardy, 
who’d joined Beta Theta Pi, 
signed up to read law in Northampton  
at the offices of Richard Irwin, 
he helped me get an interview  
at Hammond and Field, another firm 
of Amherst men in the county seat, 
Hammond already favorably disposed toward me. 
Hammond’s partner, Henry P. Field, 
was family lawyer to Edward Dickinson, 
son of the Amherst founder Samuel, 
father of Emily and Austin, 
Austin the school treasurer, rumored 
to have had an affair with an astronomy professor’s wife. 
Hammond and Field offered me a desk in their shop. 
I determined myself to master the law, 
qualify as an attorney in three years, maybe two. 
I also determined I’d find myself a wife. 

First Date 
I seemed to be settling in  
to the life of a political bachelor: 
party meetings, working, holing up in my rooms. 
I’d been admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1897, 
been appointed to the Republican City Committee, 
been a delegate to the Republican State Convention, 
elected a Northampton councilman, 
appointed Northampton city solicitor, 
Clerk of the Courts for Hampshire County, 
but I just didn’t know how to meet women. 
I was already thirty-two. 

Educated women surrounded me –  
Smith College was a showcase for them. 
Females taught at the Clarke School for the Deaf. 
Northampton was crawling with them, 
but my shyness overcame me, 
and I devoted myself to my legal and political work. 

One morning when I was shaving, 
my hat on my head as I held the razor, 
I heard a peal if laughter, like birdsong, 
coming through my window of my Round Hill Road home. 
My housemate, Bob Weir, told me  
the laughter came from a Clarke School teacher 
who’d seen me while watering flowers on the lawn 
outside her dormitory across the way. 

Grace Anna Goodhue, almost seven years my junior, 
sent me a pit of flowers the next day, 
and I sent her my calling card. 
Our first date?  
A political rally at Northampton City Hall. 

One of my friends, Alfred Pearce Dennis, 
a teacher at Smith who also lodged in Round Hill Road, 
called Grace “a creature of spirit, fire and dew,” 
stunned she favored me, a quiet lawyer. 
I savored my good fortune, too. 
Grace and I were like yin and yang, 
she dark, me fair; I hated sports, 
she liked to skate, dance, play baseball; 
Grace knitted, sewed, crocheted, but 
I was no good at any handiwork. 
But opposites attract; soon we were inseparable. 
We were both Vermonters in Northampton. 
Suddenly I was going to events and places  
I’d have skipped before, even went ice-skating. 
I took her up to Mount Tom on the west bank 
of the Connecticut River near Holyoke. 
We attended a DAR meeting together at Rahar’s Inn, 
both of us descendants of revolutionaries, 
during Northampton’s 250th anniversary. 
I took Grace to Plymouth to meet my father and grandmother, 
showed her all the beauties of the Green Mountains. 
We went to Burlington to see the Goodhues. 
By then we’d been intimate for most of a year. 
“Up here on some law business, Mr. Coolidge?” 
Grace’s father, Captain Goodhue asked me. 
“Come to see about marrying Grace,” I replied. 

Are Teacher Is a Joke 

the note read. 
I found it on the floor 
by the trash can 
after class was over, 
before I turned out the light, 
shut the door behind me. 

I was pretty sure 
Tanya McCoy wrote it. 
I could check the handwriting 
against the in-class essay, 
I thought, but I decided to toss it. 

I’d given Tanya a generous C  
for her incoherent narrative essay  
on her grandfather’s suicide – 
no doubt a deeply emotional topic for her 
but difficult to make sense of, 
for which I was somehow to blame. 

But I stuffed the note in my pocket instead. 
“Are teacher”: when would I  
find something this cool again? 

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore. His poetry collection, A Magician Among the Spirits, poems about Harry Houdini, is a 2022 Blue Light Press Poetry winner. A collection of poems and flash called See What I Mean? was recently published by Kelsay Books, and another collection of persona poems and dramatic monologues involving burlesque stars, The Trapeze of Your Flesh, will be published by BlazeVOX Books in April. 

#Calvin Coolidge#charles rammelkamp#love#National Poetry Month 2024#poetry

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