Too blustery and wet to go out, I sit down with a box of old photos. Here’s one of Aunt Esther in a spiffy hat with my brother Bob in 1940 or ’41 on the stoop of a house in Detroit where he was born, a couple of years before she gave birth to her oldest son who had a debilitating birth defect which caused her and her husband and subsequent kids no end of family grief. And here’s a class picture of 2nd and 3rd graders with me kneeling on the gym floor next to Wayne Robertson who years later disappeared on a solo flight over Lake Michigan, never a trace of him or the plane to be found. And an old one of a wagon in a field piled high with loose hay, one man on top, three on the ground plus a woman (all too small to be identifiable), all leaning on pitchforks, and a poor horse waiting to be told, in Finnish I would guess, to pull that huge load. My fingers shuffle through relatives and family friends, almost all dead now, until I come to a pic of my old college friend Jack I’m no longer in touch with. I assume he’s now out making his way in the world somewhere, bearing some load, no doubt, but content, I’d guess, in a warm, sunny climate. As robust and hale as he was, I trust he’s still alive. And free of high angst, I hope, as we all should be, the horse included.
From the Sticks
We were boys, there were stars in a white wash over the gravel roads we walked all summer (every night, every summer) until we were no longer boys. We heard a throng of frogs near the creek, and breathed in the scent of clover-spiced cut hay laced with smoke from pilfered cigarettes, their fitful, glowing nubs in our several mouths like clustered fireflies in a dark we couldn’t see into past ourselves. Talking, God knows about what, endlessly and deep into the night, we felt every tissue in our boys’ bodies aching towards some need, some far desire we couldn’t even name, towards release from that bud that youth burns to open out of like a flower bursting its mortal flame into the world, wanting to consume it, wanting to be consumed body and soul, transmuted whole into the world’s body, becoming everything pulsing and radiant, everything that inspires awe. The heavens turned round and round. What we became–as I see it from my small joy in making do, unblossomed, stultified (far from the lot of you, my once-tight knot of friends, far from those summer nights)–looks like nothing we might have wished on a star for. As for me, did I think my world would become a magic show?, that I would be plucked from a vast crowd to help manifest unheard-of mysteries?, that out of a drab egg I’d hatch full-blown, a dazzling bird?
Every morning, if the sun shines, it comes through the trees out front forming a green curtain. No matter how smirched my picture window I see the curtain and an occasional car going up or down Sheffield on its way to Rangoon which may not be called that anymore, things change so, even geography, even the geography of our bodies. That especially changes. How lots of us who used to run, limp now, or shuffle in two-inch baby steps with a cane or walking stick in hand, wearing faces like the loose dirt of eroding hillsides. Who’s going to go to Rangoon in that condition, even if one wanted to? At this point it has to be imagined–there through the green curtain–a city of whatever features the brain can cook up. But who wanted to go there to swelter anyway? Maybe Helsinki or Cape Horn, somewhere a touch chilly, where a curtain parts to let you in, and closes behind you replacing past, memory, regret, everything, with a new body and new senses. If I think back to when so many things seemed so possible, sometimes I forget to breathe.
His grandfather’s cow got bloated standing right before his eyes. Was it something she had eaten, some weird weed or herb? She got bigger and bigger until she looked like a dirigible. Slowly she began to rise from the grazed field until she reached the tops of the trees, and then even further, almost to the low clouds hovering above. The breeze began to take her eastward toward the river. Oh no, no, he thought. They had always had a special bond. From this distance they squinted at each other longingly, she with her lovely cow eyes and he with his heart in his mouth. As the wind took her towards the horizon, he waved and shouted God speed, my love. Write me a note when you get to Scotland, and send me a single malt and a Tartan kilt. I’ll come for you before the year is out, and we’ll book passage back home.
James Kangas has had poems in Atlanta Review, New Letters, New World Writing, The Penn Review, Unbroken, West Branch, et al. His chapbook, Breath of Eden (Sibling Rivalry Press), was published in 2019.