James Kangas ~ Four Stories


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.