James Kangas ~ Five Poems

The Incident

The neigh­bor­hood seems most­ly safe, although
at night one can often hear a lot of gunshots.
At least there hasn’t been a dri­ve-by shoot­ing today,
no police cor­don­ing off the block, ask­ing all
the neigh­bors what they saw and heard. At noon!
Just a cloud fly­ing by with an undecipherable
script and a risqué draw­ing on its belly.
Just yes­ter­day the cops picked up 21 shell casings
as evi­dence, holes in the win­dows of the house
oppo­site where the renter, a cop said, is uncooperative,
he who sits in his run­ning car at midnight,
head­lights point­ing toward the street as if he’s ready
to go out for a deliv­ery, or to get more dope, or get
away and fast if some unwant­ed rival comes around
to net­tle his uneasy qui­etude, set­tle a score.
A nun-like woman who lived there a while back
used to pick up trash on the street and picket
an abor­tion clin­ic on Flushing Road. That was then.
Only now am I curi­ous about the renter’s woman
and four kids, the occa­sion­al dog, the whole lot
who’ve moved else­where, thank heav­en. The house
is emp­ty. And now the block waits for the next
occu­pant. Another sto­ry, I’m sure, wait­ing to be told.



I walked off the planet
and left the earth behind me.
I couldn’t bear to look at it
any­more. O mankind, at least
as unkind as kind, such a bedlam
you’ve made of this world,
poor, bat­tered thing.


Notes Towards a Red Bouquet

Eventually it comes in a swanky enve­lope how it was wrong to self­ish­ly play the prin­ci­pal, tak­ing the black on one’s brow like a pen­i­tent min­strel, when it wasn’t that way at all.

Now that you’ve let it go it dogs you like bad cred­it, and you would pen­cil it cor­rect, squirm­ing like a poet with a good line com­ing if you only had a clue.

There was an autumn day way back (noth­ing ever so blue), in your old Ford, lone scout on the Maine coast, haunched on the crown of Mt. Cadillac, scan­ning the Atlantic for a sign, a free­dom that will nev­er be again.

Now you get out your sneak­ers; you have only to run. You know you love what you love because of the flaw–in the log­ic, or in the thing. And when it comes to noth­ing, the pink-hand­ed flop is your own.

Yes, sad­ness gath­ers around the eyes like the green scum that grows around a still pond before it goes dry. And the stem in your teeth is all thorns. It is what you have become.


Heart of My Heart

Valve gur­gle,
faint high-
pitched cry
as if someone
were letting
air out of

the pinched
mouth of a
bal­loon. Get
down on your
shab­by knees,
false organ,

your work
always like
a bad stop-
cock. Isn’t
your time up?



I’ve checked the blurt with beeswax
to spare you the spit­tle of truth,
sealed it tight as a cof­fin. Stillborn,
it gur­gles still, the ghost of a dream.
From dusk till dawn, to cure it,
I’ve cupped on my pul­ing tongue
nine drops of bit­ters as sharp as your
rebuff. I’ve tak­en to wear­ing musk,
let my hair fly free, calmed my
fore­head fur­row­less, even starved
myself thin as a sapling, things you
love in oth­ers. This cat­a­log goes on:
noth­ing is enough.

James Kangas, a retired librar­i­an liv­ing in Flint, MI has had poems in Atlanta Review, New Letters, NYQ, Penn Review, et al. His chap­book, Breath of Eden (Sibling Rivalry Press) appeared in 2019.