Charles Rammelkamp

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The Incontinence Consultant

A woman in an office cubicle wearing a headset,
the arm of it jammed down into her eardrumArtwork by Gene McCormick
as if she were listening to intergalactic signals,
guiding the Starship Enterprise
through distant unknown galaxies,
confides she’s an “incontinence consultant,”
empathy oozing from her eyes
as she looks into the camera.

“Free, discreet home delivery,” she promises,
an 800 number flashing at the bottom of the TV screen.
“No more embarrassing trips to the pharmacy
for incontinence products.
Nobody ever needs to know.”
Just you and your incontinence consultant,
like a confessor, a shrink, an attorney.
I’m surprised she doesn’t wink.

A whole array of “incontinence products”
drifts across the screen beneath her –
diapers, mattress pads, cleansing wipes,
stain and odor removers, disinfectant sprays.

Ads like these used to seem funny to me –
still do, on some level, bathroom humor
never going out of style, since our very first
poop and fart jokes at the age of two.

But I remember my lips twitching in an amused smile
when the physical therapist confided to me
about “toileting issues,”
when my mother was getting weaker and weaker,
the accompanying prick of guilt that stabbed me
in the face of my puerility
as I recognized my mother was headed
into unknown galaxies of her own.


Charles Rammelkamp’s latest book, Fusen Bakudan (“Balloon Bombs” in Japanese), was published in 2012 by Time Being Books. It’s a collection of poems about missionaries in a leper colony in Vietnam during the war. He also edits an online literary journal called The Potomac - and is a fiction editor for The Pedestal