Anguish of Unmet Expectations

Dora labors to turn newspaper pages.
Not aging. Or illness.

It is the news
that weighs upon her hand and arm.

Without the benefit of building muscle
as she turns through politics to sports.

Even when she listens to podcasts
they so often fill the air with heavy words

that the weight carried in implications and portents
settles deep in her lungs

and clogs her ears with depressed speculation
and what ifs.

It is as if our American society is an organism
about to self divide to form two.

Such is the movement away from union.
Pushed by lies like a century and a half ago.

Different lies, but lies all the same.
And passions lit like bonfires

with effigies of the opposition
and dirty tricks turned in the cast shadows.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney


The blue woman
wore white
with exposed shoulders
ankles and bare feet.

She lifted her arms
in musical notation
to conduct the thunder
like a symphony.

The crown of the open hill
where she stood
exposed domed granite
and sparse grasses.

As the storm advanced
across the valley floor
the thunder echoed
and reverberated its approach.

The electric blue lightning
leapt cloud to cloud
superheating the air
and expanding it rapidly.

The blue woman snatched
a shock wave up in her left hand
and used it like a lasso
to hold the storm over her fields.

She swiftly yanked the improvised cord
to squeeze the cloud into rain
but it groaned like her fat uncle
trying to button his blue jeans to no effect.

The storm bucked and kicked
and tossed its horns
like a plains buffalo
instead of an open range steer.

She recognized the futility
of trying to domesticate the storm
and set it loose
to speed northeast.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Gills Lungs

For all the names
applied to organisms
for their ability to adapt
to evolving circumstances

some of those organism
choose a hallucinogenic twilight
over facing
the hard work of change.

No! I do not utilize elaborate
words and metaphors
to speak obliquely about
David’s drinking.

Nor the amount of weed
gone to smoke or brownies
in Edward’s apartment
before noon.

I mean, with or without us
the earth and its creatures
will move forward, adjusting
their molecules

like the first fish
that dared to crawl briefly
onto the beach sands
some geologic long ago.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Compressed Ash

The drought was plague enough.
Then the pandemic arrived.

National parks taken for granted before
overflowed with local visitors.

Our favorite hikes grew so crowded
we took to obscure trails.

Up and up and up the southeast canyon wall
over three dozen switchbacks.

The pack I wore contained a small lunch
and four water bottles.

We studied up close the mineral beauty
of dry spill-ways down scratchy tuff.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

End Times

In fairness
all fishermen
when they die
should be cast
to the sea
so the fishes
may feast
to close
the circle.

Thus thinking
need to rest
under the sod
so they are consumed
by the grasses
that feed
the cows.

And poets
should go up
in flames
after so many
inflammatory verses.
The wind
can taste their salt.
Their water
will steam
and join
the clouds.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney


I stood on a longboat.
A pretend viking sporting a mohawk.

The oars dipped into Lake Erie.
Strong backs at work.

Meteorologists predicted the fog to lift.
It did not lift.

To a degree we were irrelevant.
Our identities remained inconsistent.

We shifted through time. Past to present.
Present to past.

We made up new names
for our godly pantheon.

We made up betrayals
to focus our energies.

The foghorn moved
from front to side to back.

I have no memory
of how I earned the name Thor.

I think my shipmates
learned I was born on Thursday.

But it could be that I
cloaked the ship in fog.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Exposed by the Elements

Paul catalogued bones.
He had no boxes so made piles.

On each bone he tied a tag
on which he jotted information.

Many of the bones were broken
or fractured.

Any cloth remnants
he taped to the bones by which they lay.

He placed loose teeth in a mason jar.
He placed loose beads in a different mason jar.

He placed oxidized lead bullets
in an old leaded green glass mason jar.

All of the bullets were misshapen.
Some bit bone fragments.

No weapons. No tools.
No other personal effects.

He knew he was not scientific
in the manner of archeologists.

He guessed he broke a law
about uncovering native burial sites.

He rationalized this was not a burial site
but a massacre site.

Working with the dead did not bother him.
He felt ghosts pass by him as he exposed bones to the air.

He did not speculate if the ghosts
rose toward heaven or just let him be.

Paul figured the magpies and crows
passed down stories of what actually happened here.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney


This is a fictional “what-if one of my hikes passed by exposed bones” poem.


The photographer
repositioned the body
of the soldier
to make the composition
more dramatic.

He knew a distorted truth
sold better than
the naked truth
unless the naked truth
was a naked lady.
But that was not gentlemanly
or a proper subject.

The photographer
knew the truth
was already distorted
since burial parties
removed most of the bodies
to place them side by side
in long trenches
with no markers.

This poor fellow
was oddly preserved.
Not bloated or blue-skinned.
The photographer guessed
the man died during the night
after his late arrival—
died an agonizing two days
after the fighting ended
and the armies withdrew.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

English Breakfast

Snow collected outside the window
as frost collected on the inside.

I thought there was a law
the prevented the heat being turned off in winter.

But it might have been that backhoe
that severed a gas line affected this house.

A fire burns in the fire place
and I learn to sleep with flickering light

and a sleeping bag unrolled
on the spark singed carpet.

It is a matter of too hot facing the fire
and too cold facing away.

There is the drip drip drip of the faucet
intentionally running so the pipes won’t freeze

in case I figure out how to heat water
for my morning tea.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney


Do people who work with their hands
learn sign language faster
than a new spoken language?

In America people who work with their hands
are placed on lower rungs
of society’s ladder.

Jesus is the Christian Savior
and he was a carpenter—
why don’t Christians elect more carpenters to public office?

A real carpenter, not a contractor.
Or better yet a plumber
since there is so much shit to send to treatment plants.

This assumes treatment plants function properly
which no politician can make happen
since they are mostly lawyers and not good with their hands.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney