Like Any Good Son

Like any good son,
I was not good all the time.

Like many good sons,
I grew up, attended university,

forged my own life and career
which took me far from my father’s house.

Because I was far away in my own life,
I was not by my father’s side when he died.

He died in an auto accident,
so it is a good thing I was not by his side.

I attended his memorial in the church
he attended every Sunday for fifty years.

The service was midwestern-protestant
and beautiful in that manner.

Three hundred mourners told me
how his goodness touched them.

Like any good son, I kept quiet
about all the times he was not good.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Dervish Circles

I washed
my shame
with color-safe
and dried it
set on permanent-

I hung
my shame
in my closet,
adjacent to
three, white,

My shame
on a cedar
so moths
would not
eat holes
out of it
and spoil
its sky-jump
color knit
for when
my mind
is a whirl
of dervish

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Mr. Hays

Mr. Hays taught remedial English.
That was Glenbard West high school.
He taught us to balance our checkbooks
before we had bank accounts.
He taught us to wash laundry properly
instead of deconstruct Melville’s Moby Dick.
He encouraged us to take cooking classes
so even as bachelors we would eat right.

He taught us other things to prepare us
for the real world of having only a high school diploma.
We never learned to write a haiku,
but we all had professional looking resumes.
I was the remedial oddball,
who went on to university to earn a higher degree.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


Dianne pointed out that the word bachelors excludes girls. The remedial English class this poem refers to, my Junior year English class, was a dozen teen boys. No girls. The girls were smart enough or so diligent at homework that they remained in regular English classes.

As far as knowledge learned in high school that helped me in the real world, the stuff Mr. Hays taught us in remedial English and Algebra I & II are the things I found most useful in my adult life. Thanks Mr. Hays. Thanks Mr. Miller for the Algebra.

In The Running

I hate reading.
How the letters keep changing places.
How some words move, then say, Boo!

I love math.
When sixteen refuses to be sixty-one.
When divided-by retains its dots.

I color outside the lines.
My cat drawing has bat wings to fly.
My family drawing is a headstone in the rain.

School brands me Stupid.
A red-hot iron word applied daily,
by twenty-three classmates’ tongues.

Though I fail to outrun ridicule,
I win every footrace at recess.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Black Dog Howled

Black Dog howled.
He scraped the mud off of his paws.
He catalogued where he buried bones.

Yesterday’s howl investigated
a shrine to shame
and the submission of the weak hearted.

Today’s dried mud
preserves patterns of the down trodden
and the path to misplaced feelings.

Tomorrow’s bones
will record the ancient manner of fear
and the failure of moving past failure.

Black Dog howled.
He scraped mountains down to the sea.
He catalogued a million triumphs.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


I used to drive
the dirt and gravel
forest roads
the state highway department
created to receive
more federal highway dollars
a couple of times a week.

Some of those roads
had once been
wagon trails
based on the ghost towns
I passed through:
five or six separate buildings
in various states of decay.

Where there was room
to pull over and park
I sometimes found
boarded up holes
where men once prospected
for precious metals,
some with rusted frames
for lifts in and out.

I found a family cemetery
not far from a char-scored chimney
with three headstones
cut with dates and names
distinguishable by shadow
and touch.

I deciphered
the name Jesus
on one of the stones.
And I found,
regardless of the reality
the Spanish words conveyed,
I preferred thinking
the Christian savior
was buried right here
on this mountain.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


To shake things up,
we light fires under the imaginations
of people hiding
behind closed doors

to liberate them
from the idea
gifts are given only
on birthdays and Christmas.

At the thrift shop we find
old vinyl records our fathers played
with black and white cover photos
of the Kingston Trio
and Miles Davis.

Unintentionally we locked
something of ourselves
into those tunes
when we wrapped them
with a crimson bow
and gave them to your grandfather
just because it was Tuesday.

An inconsistent light
that came from a hollow in the sky
preceded us all day Sunday.
It illuminated unanswered questions
about high wire acts
and swan dives.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Schizophrenic Dopey

On a snow white morning,
I woke up and realized,
once and for all time,
that I was Grumpy!

This truth was quickly confirmed
when I discovered
the decapitated bodies
of six metaphysical midgets
strewn about my one-room house,
their floppy hats covered
rigor mortise erections,
and all their hi-ho smiles
were wiped from their contorted faces—

The raven-haired beauty
slept in someone else’s bed,
dreaming she had escaped
the poison apple.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Brilliant As A Twenty Watt Bulb

Paul sailed a crisp piece of toast
over a Land-O-Lakes sea,
stormed the Normandy kitchens
with a hollow handle master butter knife
and a jar of orange marmalade.

He navigated dime novels
and prestidigitators’ misdirections
to bring you a high wire
newspaper headline
from below the fold.

Paul stood on one leg,
while he revealed
he replaced his stomach
with an unknotted birdcage,
a rainbow plumed parakeet on the swing.

The bird consumed nuggets
of traumatized wisdom passed down
from midnight voices heard
at the edge of dreams
and the clicks of opening pistachio shells.

Paul sat on the dictionary
hatching new words
the likes of which would label him
brilliant as a twenty watt bulb
instead of crazy like a lox smear on a bagel.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney