On the Surface of What is Real

Paul sorts through the Scrabble tiles
for a willful word
that will brook no descent.

Lori tires of waiting for the message
and moves to the kitchen
to finish the dishes.

Pushing them apart
was never Paul’s intent
so he alters his mouth

to launch an apology
off his tongue
toward Lori’s ears.

Not looking for words
her head is turned
at the wrong angle.

Some utterances
fail to part the curtain of hair
covering her ears.

So the apology becomes a malady
of television watched alone
on the love seat.

Paul starts over
after an uncomfortable hour
with an old standard

that comes from some place real
with an I love you
that pierces Lori’s mood

and finds that beautiful place
where conversation begins
and troubled waters smooth.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Looking Back

I never became the boy in the photo
mother kept on the mantle.

I never developed that smile
or wore that haircut.

It is always summer in that photo
even in black and white.

I remember the tiny guillotine
of being called his name

and how it shaved slivers off me
onto the floor for to be swept away.

I loved and hated him in his absence—
in the perfection of vivid memories.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Spoiler

In that far off city
where the cathedral
was built stone
by stolen stone
from three ancient
places of worship
the native peoples
attend the Catholic service
and feel their ancient religion
deep in those rocks
that now support
arched oak beams
and view the sacraments
each Sunday.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Each June Twenty-Third

I waved a gun around last night
like four years of war
were finally declared over
and we had won.

I jabbed it in the air many times
without the bayonet
as if to punctuate my joy
which I lost at some camp ground.

I did not fire the gun in celebration.
That would have taken
twenty to thirty seconds of preparation
for the peculiar bang of it.

No one saw this repeated celebration.
The back yard was cloaked with trees.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Note

On June 23, 1865 Confederate General Stand Watie surrendered at Doaksville in the Choctaw Nation (now Oklahoma) which ended the American Civil War more than two months after Appomattox.

Repository

Paul believed he gave himself away.
He sold himself to the highest bidder.

It felt good.
His body reacted without thought.

He thought if only he opened a window.
He thought if only he spoke.

A typed sentence of reason
rotated swiftly like a jump rope

like a string in theory
creating a sphere.

Paul had no memory of the evening.
He after-tasted words in his mouth.

Like shoe leather on his tongue.
Like dirt and sea making a salt marsh.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

So Difficult to Rise

Delphi told me to come in and eat.
The food was good and hot.

A solid day of physical labor
made it taste all the better.

Delphi’s name was on her blouse
above where her right hand held the coffee pot.

She spent all day going table to table
scratching orders and refilling.

I saw most of the patrons
she attended

saw through her like a shadow—
unless something was wrong.

Delphi wrote worldly prophecies
on the bottom of the tickets

but few people bothered to read them
before the pages were impaled.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Sufficient

We misplaced our shadows in the night
as the house turned.

The dry creek bed filled with sky—
a wash punctuated

with thistle heads
softened with rabbit brush.

Weak things were swept away
by water impregnated with ash.

I stood above you.
Silent.

A being crouched slightly
then stretching the universe itself.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

We Worked and Worked

We crossed the stone wall—
rocks set upon each other
up to the knee.

There were holes between some rocks
as if smaller rocks should be wedged
to sustain the formation.

It was easy to cross over
but impossible to return
even to aid a friend who stumbled.

We’d been told the Mexican coyotes
brought undocumented folks
up dry stream beds

and that here drug mules
evaded federal agents
and their drug sniffing dogs.

We saw no sign of such maneuvers
engines of transport
or spotlights flicked on at night.

We found brooms stacked like arms.
There was a note attached
but we could not read it in the moonlight.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Happening

The river we crossed
had shade from trees
just as we were promised.

The river looked like any other river
on a broad plain.
It had no serpents or quicksand.

Our rest was for a midday meal
and to wait for others
we were sure walked behind us.

How we crossed I cannot say.
There was no ferry or boat.
There was no bridge or pontoon.

I remember when it arrived
the night was darker than usual
and the stars held unfamiliar stories.

During the night we heard hooves
amble by in great numbers
like buffalo or cows.

By morning there was no sign
of a single print in the ground
no broken blade of grass.

When dawn broke the horizon
we heard a choir sustain
a solitary note from far away.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Our Roof Always Sheltered Us

It was day before I knew it
because I slept late
but made it to work on time.

We were free to ride the elephant
which is what we called
our truck coated in grey primer.

I knew as we drove
this land was our country
for as far as we could drive in a day.

As we drove we spotted
white and black faces
along the side of the road

and all the shades of brown—
all with their thumbs out
heading north at a snail’s pace.

Our job was to hand out bottled water
to the thirsty
and PB&Js to the hungry

then report the body count
to a sixth floor office
in a dull white municipal building.

It seemed we should be reporting
to a cathedral or church
responding to some biblical edict.

But no. It was our response to music
both inside and outside our heads.
Half hearing. Half reacting.

Most days Delphi and I never saw
any other traffic.
Half a tank out and half a tank back again.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney