I witnessed the hanging tree
and the lynching ghosts
a few miles from the family farm
on a beat-up picture postcard.

Its commercialization curses the cropland.
Such community revelations
sear a peculiar brand on sons and daughters.
Petty political purity corrodes every plow.

Such events require a prudent family
animated by the fear of retaliation,
who employ wile and manipulation
instead of Christian ethics.

Grandfather, the January snows melt
to reveal what it once covered up.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


The monsters that roam your unconscious
were once real in the guise of friends or family.

You may have an anxiety closet
or fear the underside of your bed,

but that is the mind’s manifestation
of buried images from silent era films.

Silence from before your vocabulary developed
or grew large enough to express something insidious

like the misplaced hand that steals the spine
or a common action diverted into the perverse.

Your fluttering eyelids over our coffee cup conversation
confirms emotional bruises and illicit fingerprints.

The secrets you keep are secret only in detail.
Violence without definition, without time stamp or witness.

As your body twists muscles in a squirm
your secrets wring an old blackened torment outward.

I recognize your avoidance techniques.
I realize your emotional heart stopped and blood turned cold.

Though it is plain your ears are not deaf,
my It’s over and Let it go fail to vibrate the ear drum,

to penetrate deep to the living memory
that retains the trespass as clear and present danger.

A moment of relief crosses your eyes
as we switch our talk to the playoffs

and other subjects that leave tears
far from the corners of your eyes.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

New Call

Dora catches sparrows.
I mean, she attracts them with a song.

House sparrows. Black chested sparrows.
White crowned sparrows. Cinnamon tailed sparrows.

Down from the phone lines they swoop
to her upraised arm.

They exchange sweet secrets
and neighborhood feeder locations.

They exchange nest building plans
and rules about egg warming.

After four days, I recognize a new call
to entreat Dora to the yard.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Illegible Scribbles

Poetry arrives at our door.
Road weary. Grimy.
Footsore from sixty-thousand steps that day.

Poetry plops down on my couch.
Turns on the TV.
Accepts a cup of ginger tea.

Poetry dresses down
the artwork on our walls.
Not enough typeface.

Poetry takes off its shoes.
Curls up on the couch, falls asleep,
and snores haikus.

Poetry puts on its walking shoes
at four-thirty in the morning.
On the way out,

it leaves the front door ajar.
Its signature footprints vanish
as the carpet pile rebounds.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Red White And Black

When cotton was king
a people was enslaved and declared subhuman.

When corn was king
the McCormick reaper freed a million men

to serve in the Armies of the Potomac,
Cumberland and Tennessee.

Southerners’ mental gymnastics
won all the the eighteen-sixty Olympic medals.

Hypocrisy recognized by a few
caused them to teach their slaves to read and write

for the importance to know the gospels,
to come to know Jesus and salvation.

Do not dismiss the bravery of this act.
In most southern states that was a capital offense.

Before the black man was brought to the Americas,
the red man was enslaved and worked to death.

Columbus promised Isabella and Ferdinand
boat loads of New World riches,

but found only one valuable commodity
in abundance to enrich Spain.

No one heeded the Pope
when he spoke out against this practice.

How shabby our collective Christianity.
How spartan our application of the golden rule.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


Poetic license allows the Olympic medal to be awarded in 1860, when the modern Olympics did not start until 1896.

Documentation of the enslavement of Native Americans is in the book The Other Slavery, by Andrés Reséndez.

Clean Away

A wake scheduled
for four-thirty in the morning
revels the scrape and rub
of knees and elbows
and the first lightning
of an approaching monsoon,
whose thunderclap
must be imagined
as six syllables
impacting the breastbone.

The gathered
form an imperfect circle
around a long time friend
who conjured the notion
that his ashes
be mixed
into the sandy ground
at first light.

The approaching storm
whips up such a violence
as we stir him
into the arroyo’s bank,
knowing the coming
flash flood
will strip him clean away.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


A glass of milk
from the hand of a slave
loses its richness
and the dunked cookies
leave a bitter aftertaste.

Even if the house
once kept slaves
freed by emancipation,
the Union Army
and the thirteenth amendment,
there is no sustenance
in the portions served.

A ghost I christened Jupiter,
after a character
in the movie Glory,
rattles the chains
of my enslaved mind.

My country
refuses responsibility
and restitution,
the promised
forty acres and a mule.
Tarnishes this year’s
Juneteenth jubilee.

Such a heartache.
Deep down in the midst of plenty.
Past the civil rights movement.
During the open racism
of the Trump administration.
The stroke of reckoning pungent
when the abused
holds mastery over the abuser.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


Jupiter Sharts is the character’s full name from the movie Glory. I chose the character’s last name for the title as if to create a new verb or noun. Sharts: that moment when the abused takes mastery over the abuser.