James Kangas ~ 3 Pieces

One Afternoon

The sky chose to wear blue and the dog put on her boots and we  went out walk­ing. She sniffed the ground for scat as the sweet scent of lilacs waft­ed into her nos­trils and mine. We walked down to the riv­er run­ning through the park. As geese pad­dled by we crossed the foot­bridge and  turned west, walked to the sec­ond foot­bridge where we could see the log jut­ting out into the riv­er which was cov­ered with tur­tles, sun­bathing. She woofed at them a lit­tle, but the tur­tles paid her no mind. They lazed and dozed in the mid­day sun, and dreamed their tur­tle dreams as I pon­dered what was left of my existence–my mis­spent, acci­den­tal, frit­tered away days. And then Chloe tugged at her leash, and we made our way home.


Through the Fog of Fifty Years

Tonight I go out look­ing for you everywhere”
      –Thomas James

Chicago walkup din­ing room. My cheap table, chairs, pre­vi­ous tenant’s aban­doned car­pet (elec­tric blue), her old cup­board. I recall, faint­ly, a chat there about poet­ry with a young man I’d met somewhere–I sup­pose in a bar. It was win­ter. I think we were a lit­tle uneasy with each oth­er. But real­ly I remem­ber noth­ing much about that night except maybe he was blond and wore a heavy sweater.  And the bare­ly recalled con­ver­sa­tion. In some way,  undoubt­ed­ly, I admired him stand­ing there in that stark room dis­cussing (no joke) poet­ry. Dickinson? Larkin or Rilke? Had I even found those two by then? Maybe his, the young man’s, the talk of no great depth, sure­ly. Did we keep up our guard? If we trad­ed num­bers, did I not call? Thomas James, I think that was you. Everything fits: time frame, geog­ra­phy, poet­ry. Did I not rec­og­nize the angst burn­ing in your eyes, not sense the fit­ful ember of your body? Could we have become best chums? Could I have saved you from your gun, pulled you through that dark January with some thread of hope, giv­en you daf­fodils come April? I read now Letters to a Stranger again, look­ing for signs (of what?), my long-gone phan­tom, my unknown from that not-to-be-recon­struct­ed night. Dark ques­tions are all I have of you. Echoes of your lines.


On the Rocks

It was for me the deep­est of attrac­tions, mine to you, the mag­net­ism of a life­time. I want­ed to absorb you through my pores and make us one invul­ner­a­ble body,  one that could not be dis­solved. But some­thing went awry.

We had agreed to meet in a park or some oth­er des­o­late place north of Chicago, but it’s way too long ago for me to remem­ber any real detail. I had come from vis­it­ing my folks in their des­o­late place, and knew our meet­ing was going to be dif­fi­cult, final in all probability.

You thought I had been dal­ly­ing out­side our inti­ma­cy, but that was just smoke. No flame, no coals, just smoke. Or maybe I was insuf­fi­cient or annoy­ing in some way I didn’t grasp. Maybe you had con­clud­ed our long-dis­tance affair wasn’t going to be work­able. I was crazy enough to think otherwise.

It seems we were shuf­fling our feet on stones too big to allow us to keep our bal­ance. Teetering. We couldn’t get to the crux of the mat­ter, couldn’t even iden­ti­fy it; couldn’t force it into focus, both just stu­pid­ly flail­ing. There was noth­ing I could fix.

The meet­ing took maybe half an hour before I drove off after some sort of grim, cur­so­ry farewell.  One more flame snuffed out.

That’s not much of a mem­o­ry, but large pieces of what had come before are clear­er: our night at the Webster, how smit­ten I was, your pen­sive eyes draw­ing me in, your melan­choly, your face, your shoul­ders, the entire­ty of your frame.


James Kangas has had poems in Atlanta Review, Faultline, New World Writing, The New York Quarterly, The Penn Review,West Branch, Yemassee, et al. His chap­book, Breath of Eden (Sibling Rivalry Press), was pub­lished in 2019.