Full Spiral

I figure
if I am lucky
I will die while hiking
some sparsely traveled
and bloat up
like those cows
I see prone
in rural areas
not too far from the road
before the turkey vultures
glide through death’s wake,
spiral and land on a leg,
sticking straight up
in the air.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


We hit each other in no time.
I mean, we hit it off.
I require a clearer definition of “it”.

We teased the things we love
out into the open
and sorted them into categories.

Most fell under the sun and moon,
others into a crisp mountain lake,
still others into a peeled-label beer bottle

we shared at a small round table
with a crystal clean ashtray
and zen sand box with raked lines.

The pub’s illumination was votive candles,
alit in machined whiskey bottle bottoms
centered upon a stylish yin yang inset design.

The building’s exterior neon pulsed red window aura
as a past life memory afflicted us
with the delicate web of a confessional spider,

spun with Our Fathers and Hail Marys
in its attempt to entangle
our youthful libertine philosophies.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


When I’ve been silent long enough,
sparrow wings flutter near my ears,
take perch on the vines adjacent to the glider.

My silence listens
for whispers from the core of the earth
and distant galaxies.

Eyes closed, I hear the field mouse
gather seeds dropped by the birds
that attend the feeder.

Some days, I wonder if I practice
for that day my eyesight fails
and other senses will dominate interaction.

My heart sings
and I feel the melody in my limbs,
but I do not hear the refrain in my ears.

And I wonder how my legs
are more perceptive than
my university educated mind.

The sparrows take wing as I stand up,
initiate a walk—long strides span
whole notes in my own canticle of ecstasy.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


This poem exists because I was previewing early music on iTunes by Hildegard von Bingen and the word canticle got stuck in my head. So I wrote a poem to, in its meandering way, use the word canticle.

In Bed

Our arms lay adjacent to each other.
She sleeps unaware I notice our placement.

How the covers are off of her legs and shoulders,
but tucked tight around my waist.

How the rain sediment staining the windows
obscures the stars as the earth rotates.

How autumn leaves fall at night
just as gracefully as spotlighted in day.

Far below her soft breath
a dream begins its rapid-eye story.

The sky darkens toward dawn’s promised return.
Wind-whipped mountain tops salt the night.

A little over eight minutes old and homeless,
sunlight emblazons the snow capped peaks.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney

Sanskrit or Greek

The poem begins
with an off-the-shelf thought
that wishes to be seen
from a different point of view,
that turns tradition on its head,
that bends light while stretching it
into colors upon the landscape.

In the second verse,
I ask the thought to perform
the Peppermint Twist
or a Waltz or some break dancing moves.

In the third verse
a conversation with Magritte or Dali
should be summoned via seance
with a medium, a large and a small,
so we may present the dreams
the thought never aspired to attain
to exceed the mundane.

And so the shaping goes, the growing,
the tweaking, the malleable manipulation
of fact and metaphor and allusion
and other devises taken from
medieval torture chambers for getting at the truth.

The poem ends
with a period mostly.
Some conventions are followed
to provide a familiar structure
in the delivery system—
it would not benefit many
if I created the perfect poem
only to perform it in Sanskrit or Greek.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney

In Search of My Great Great Great Great Grandfather

In English my last name is a device
that transports hospital patients from one room to another,
unless they are left in the hallway,
waiting an inordinate amount of time
for a room to open up for sleep, recovery or a procedure.

Since the wheeled stretcher
was first called a gurney in nineteen-thirty-five,
of unexplained origin in the dictionary,
and our family moved to the American colonies in sixteen-thirty-four,
there must be another meaning hidden somewhere.

Ancestry research claims Gurney is a place name,
English, evolved from the Norman-French Gournay
back when the Normans controlled
parts of England and parts of France, but not the whole of either.

A few letters dropped or changed along the way
to modern times from the Norman-Saxon merger
to Albuquerque, New Mexico where I live—
which is not unusual when you consider the phrase
an inkling started out as a nicking—a simple count.

So much for my pet theory that the name originated
from Guernsey, the channel island between France
and the English coast where that wonderful book
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
is set just after World War Two.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney

Eighteen Seventy-Seven

The men in the uniform blue suits
come around not much anymore.

They stopped treading on our racism
a long time ago—before

North Carolina implemented
a systematic program to prevent most folks from voting.

I remember how they bent rail-iron around trees
outside the church as we spoke our vows.

I remember how they found
the three cows we tried to hide for ourselves in the forest.

We were crazy hungry back then.
Chicory substituted for coffee.

Nothing substituted for sugar.
I got my first blisters after our darkies

followed Sherman’s Bummers north to freedom
only to learn the Yankees did not want then free up there either.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


The title is a reference to the last year Federal government troops and actions forced laws and enforced those laws upon the post Civil War South.

My goal in this piece was to write in the voice of a white South Carolinian woman in that year, a wife on a small farmer who had survived the ravages of the war and reconstruction.

All of the states were complicit in both slavery and racism—North and South—since all white people benefited from low market prices on products produced, directly & indirectly, through slavery. I wish the country could hold a nationwide reconciliation action for racism and the fact of slavery, like the South Africans commissioned to start to heal the wounds of Apartheid. I think the US is in great need of such a coming clean—confessional.

Hearing the Virginia Governor Northam in an interview at first refer the slavery as indentured servitude before the interviewer corrected him, really pissed me off. As a people we cannot rewrite our way out of our violent, racist past and present.