Traffic Stop

In the clumsy countryside
bicyclists fell at one of twenty four speeds.

Unaware of this I traveled cross-country
on my Trek manufactured in Waterloo, Wisconsin.

I got confused by the lack of street signs
and turned into a long silence.

This disorientation landed me in front
of a cafe where angels roosted on the roof.

One of them served me tea.
She spilled a few drops on the wing-swept floor.

Before I ordered eggs over easy
she reminded me when she flies high

all of us bicyclists look like insects
navigating asphalt ribbon.

She put her foot down for emphasis
and I decided not to think out loud.

The syrup amplified the hotcakes
to the point where I could not hear the bacon sizzle.

The angel followed me outside from the register
and jerked my handlebars up to a thirty degree angle

so I might clear the unexplained and inexplicable divide
filled with betrayals of love.

I pedal into the sky rising like a moth
thinking the sun is as close as a street lamp.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Left Him Alone While It Rained

Paul sat at a cafe table.
A sign stood on his table with the words
Arguments five dollars.

He played to his strength
since he was not good at reading
tarot or palms.

Business was not brisk.
In fact a cafe patron took pity on him
and brought him a burger with fries.

Paul looked her square in the eye
and said he asked for ham and Swiss
on pumpernickel with chips and a dill pickle.

The woman walked away in huff.
She failed to read the fine print on the sign
that said he accepted barter.

Paul would have added Coke no Pepsi
in quasi-honor to John Belushi
but the woman had brought him a ginger ale.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Blue Ribbon

A sunny day
heats up my cafe table
through the storefront window
while my knee jiggles
with nervous energy,
while I study
a wrought iron fence
with fleur-de-lis tips
across the street
in front of a Victorian house.
A shopkeeper
sweeps the walk
clean of last night’s
Saturday celebration
of football brotherhood
and a big game
that tasted sweet victory
with local implications —
which is what I thought
tipping a pint
with friends
while watching sports
was in the first place.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Holding The Door Open

Even though Paul requested a seat
at the counter, the hostess
lead him to a corner table
and ignored him
when he spoke up a second time.

The corner was the corner
farthest from the door
and shadowed
so the crowds of young
men and women
probably would not notice him.

He took out a sketchbook and pencil
and wrote lines and lines in it
that might eventually be arranged
and rearranged into poems
or prose poems.

Paul immediately discarded the idea
of imagining all the young people naked.
Instead he attempted to discern
their particular behavior
if they attended a dinner hosted by Buñuel.

Their own aged version of Benjamin Button.
What skeletons hid in their closets.
Who each would invite to their ideal dinner party.
And, last, what it was about this place
that compelled them to arrive and leave repeatedly.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

A Day Later I Wrote

I saw your coffee was too hot to drink.
Death cooled your love of the black bean.
How odd to pass in a cafe.
Business was brisk.
The server with your breakfast burrito failed to notice.
Several people walked by unfazed.
A woman’s support dog sniffed the air and barked a lot.
Collectively, the cafe’s attention shifted.
A woman pointed and placed her other hand over her gaping mouth.
The assistant manager arrived.
Several people snapped photos and posted them to social media.
None of us knew the proper thing to do.
Some immediately fled uncomfortable in death’s proximity.
Some of us waited for authorities to arrive.
Some went on with their breakfast and left for work out of habit.
The support dog abandoned its woman.
It sat at your feet.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


While sitting
in the cafe
about nine-thirty-five,
the sun finally
cracks the storm clouds
and a spear of light
pierces the window
to glare
my glasses
to blindness
thus causing me
to turn my head
left toward
the quiet man
sitting next to me
and see him
crisp to cinders
as if he became
a crushed
charcoal briquette.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


A girl who walked away
from the psych ward
sat next to me at my cafe.
Her white ID bracelet
clued me to her name.
Sam in quotation marks.
She sat stone quiet for twenty minutes.
She drank from a paper cup.
Water with four sugars.
She chewed on a stir stick.
Sam turned toward me.
Hold up your hands in a triangle
and face the sun with your eyes closed.
You will see two eggs move like sperm
and penetrate the triangle.

Do it, she softly requested.
Do it, she repeated with undertow urgency.
Before I complied, Sam got up
and walked to another table.
She cornered herself
as far from the cafe entrance as possible.
A woman in black scrubs
with hospital ID tag on her breast pocket
walked purposefully toward her.
Hello sweetie. It’s time to go back.
No, said Sam. I wait for a friend.
What is the friend’s name, sweetie?
Sam’s thousand yard stare glazed the sun
streaked window an employee cleaned.
Three more nurse types in blue scrubs
entered the cafe and beelined to Sam.
Out numbered she surrendered,
They guided her out as quietly as she had sat.

When Sam first started talking to me
I did not recognize my opportunity
to introduce myself,
so her summons for friendship
would have had a name
she could carry back to the ward.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


This poem is 85% true and 15% poetic license. On 13 September while I sat at the counter of my favorite cafe writing poems, a young woman sat down next to me with the paper cup, wearing street clothes and the hospital wrist band. She was very quite for twenty minutes and seemed withdrawn into her own thoughts. Since I never learned her name, I made a name up for the poem.

The real life scene played out much as it does in the poem. The part about forming hands into a triangle and staring at the sun was quite important to her. I had just made the triangle shape she showed me, when she got up and moved to the farthest corner of the cafe. The nurse in black scrubs entered the cafe shortly thereafter and bee-lined to the girl.

I do not know if depression and life trauma affect a greater percentage of the country today than in the past. Even with all of our modern stresses I find it hard to believe today is more stressful than living through the Great Depression or the Spanish Influenza/WWI years. I think in modern times it is more accepted by society to reveal depression and trauma and to openly seek help.

Live with good mental health today (one day at a time).

Love & Light