Cottonwoods

One night long ago
a murder took place
under these three trees
and the soil thickened
with spilt blood.

Because this fact
was forgotten after a time
houses sprang up
around these three trees
as the city expanded
and loosened its belt.

When I hit puberty
puberty punched me in the face
and changed my eyes
so they see through time layered
upon itself.

It was a hundred and fifty-eight layers down
if you count each year as a layer
that I saw flesh undressed from bones
and long braids tucked in belts.

This became my first lesson
no fights are fair
if you plan on winning them all
as the blue suits went on
to cut down all the apricot trees
from here to the river.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Any Soil

Because to claim the land
we spilled blood
both ours and the original occupants
we assumed the right
to name every landmark
with our language
overprinting their musical tongues.

In some places the land
held on fiercely to its original name
unconcerned about the bloodstains
and our declarations of holiness.

In other places our names
sullied the air with burning
that refused to go out.
The acrid smoke drifted
and stuck to all objects
living or created.
Thus the new leaves on trees
did not appear green
and no fruit was born
that first year.

Because of the ruined graves
in a trench-line landscape
the promise that spurred our invasion
was scattered like bread crumbs
before our advance columns
reached the outskirts
of the end of the world.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Bedfellows

Paul struck a matchstick
on the box’s striker strip
and it flared to life
with a hiss.

He moved the flaming matchstick
to the open lantern
as he turned a knob
that allowed kerosene to escape.

The manifold ignited
and the barn brightened up
with false dawn
and the horses woke.

In the straw strewn floor
of the first stall
a rabbit trembled
caught inside the barn.

Its smallness confirmed
when the horse rose to its hooves
carefully avoiding the rabbit
though its tail brushed it.

Paul moved to the second stall
leaving a getaway open
for the rabbit
to the barn door and natural light.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Un-wedged from the Mouth

Lori took mason jars out into the night
to fill and cap them with moonlight
as the moon entered its first day
of the month when it could be labeled gibbous.

She transported the mason jars
to the round kiva at the bottom of the house
that the original owner built
with the Santa Fe style frame above it.

She placed one mason jar in each
of the four vaulted-arch nichos
where wooden and painted santos stood
the first day she moved in.

The silvery glow filled the kiva
with the power of four moons
and Lori’s rationalizing
this was more holy.

She sat cross-legged
in the center of the kiva floor
to enter a meditative state
that blurred the world’s boundaries.

Lori spoke childhood names
and rolled them off her second tongue
like turning rosary beads
so the world would show her

their current lives unfurled
by their present whispers
and the sleepy recognition
someone watched over them.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Chips

You do not look like
what your digital image promised.

The milk carton is empty
and so is the grocery’s dairy section.

You have not yet
named your new baby daughter

to prove your poverty is so great
that you have nothing to give her.

I can purchase for us
all the overly processed food you desire

but not a single fresh carrot
head of lettuce or apple.

Soldiers traded in their guns
for flowers to plant in the ground.

They plant them next to stones
not yet carved with names.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Pin Drop Bicycling

Pin-drop life spent among
transient sandhill cranes.

My legs struggle to keep up
on the migration north from Bosque del Apache.

This existence is beautiful
because I declare it so.

Not for the bird songs.
Not for the tourists viewing with binoculars.

So we cross the Platte
headed to marshes north of interstate ninety.

Minnesota’s ten thousand lakes.
Wisconsin’s Horicon.

Michigan’s upper peninsula.
And all over Canada.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Selected with Intention

We were to meet at the cafe at eleven.
You were a half-hour early.

I knew this was your habit
but did not prepare.

You said I knew you would be
on the patio.

Your pandemic concern had asked
to meet me on the patio.

You settled your bones
on the opposite chair.

In your purse you promised
answers resided for the mysteries of life.

I knew it was poetry books—
part of your dwindling collection

that once stretched four bookcases
across your living room wall.

I received my share of the dispersal
of your worldly goods

while you could enjoy the giving
of such treasures.

Seven books with post-its
marking pages

and notes in the margins
in pen and pencil.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

You and I

We never counted the hummingbirds
that visited our feeder.

I was the one who jumped to touch clouds
but fell short on every try.

You were the one who barreled rainwater
for the bee balm and butterfly bushes.

We hiked every mapped trail in the foothills
and many that were unmapped.

I was the one who spotted birds first
even though you were the birder.

You were the one who moved quicker and faster
even though my legs were eight inches longer.

We shared water from a canteen slung across my back—
a replica wooden civil war canteen with cork stopper.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Interpretation

Paul drew a glowing red dot
on his forehead
so people would think
he was targeted.

Consciously or subconsciously
everyone moved
to the left or right
when Paul faced them.

Everyone except
one little girl
who mistook the glowing dot
for a glowing comma

and kept waiting
for the expected
dependent clause
to follow.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney