ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by James Kangas

At the Cleveland Clinic, Miller Pavilion,
before Heart Surgery

In a lounge, for the cheer of patients plus
families killing time, a class of 4th grade    
kids was demonstrating the merengue.

There were more boys than girls,
and the extra boys, partnerless, looking
chagrined, were doing the steps alone

without complaining, their feet drilled
into rote numbness, conforming, their
teachers beaming as they looked on, as if

the day, the event, the kids, the clinic,
pending lives, the world’s whole shebang
could not be more perfect than this. As if.


Time Comes

No more bosom buddies.
No more talks till 4:00 a.m.
of mortal wishes, lying
in a field under the stars
yearning for what—love?,
El Dorado?, communing
without sham with another
soul till you're thick as ground
ivy, twined for a season maybe,
maybe years of heart-to-hearts
that feel profound, bring
palpable joy, possibility,
God knows what delusion.

But no more of that now.
Bed by 10:00.
Wry quips among cronies
one barely cares if one sees
anymore, twaddle
muttered in the wind.


Anniversary Waltz

I thought it would never stop playing its Gypsyish, dark, swaying, sorry-ass hymn to wedding nights & all that, the cutesy card Aunt Dot sent them maybe two years before he died, my father, who, even though sick & failing, railed at this world still (& at heaven too) with some small trace of his old piss & vinegar. Finally death came, & my mother made a gesture towards jumping into the grave with him. When Xmas loomed, & with Ma down & increasingly decrepit, I drove home those 500, killing, blizzard-prone miles for the holidays (the first time in 20 some years I’d made that pilgrimage in December) to help cheer her through a few glum days & the year’s longest night, their anniversary. Insistent, shrill, I thought it would never stop repeating that horrid tune after I’d jostled the damn thing reaching into the bookcase at her whim for a box of chocolates. I kept hearing the high, bell-like notes, fished it out of a pile of cards, tried everything but scissors to shut it up, buried it in the farthest full closet finally. She laughed. For three days its battery served up that thin chime. I thought it would never stop.

James Kangas is a retired librarian and musician living in Flint, Michigan. His poems have appeared in Atlanta Review, Faultline, The New York Quarterly, The Penn Review, West Branch, et al. His chapbook, Breath of Eden (Sibling Rivalry Press) was published in 2019.

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