Fifty Six Degrees

You cannot trust Bethany
to tell the truth
about her past trauma.

She has thirty years of practice
preventing these memories
from breaking through

to disrupt her day
filled with shopping, laundry
and three kids.

But the trauma ferments
in the dark of ceiled oaken casks
deep in the mind’s cellar.

With no vent set in the wood
to release the carbon dioxide
the barrel hoops strain

to keep the staves in place.
A sour smell occupies
Bethany’s nose.

That is what she says
in halts and stops
to our semicircle of faces.

And we know this too.
This aging darkness tucked away
under vaulted ceilings.

Cask after cask
awaiting the steward to tap
the wood

or for an explosion
that shatters the barrel staves
and twists and mangles the hoops.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Empty Room

Paul gave a speech.
He started, This is about
the violence done to little boys.

It is about that strange
backhanded love
that blights
the household landscape
and lowers the thermostat
without touch.

He talked about waking up
in places other than
where he fell down
and how his limbs felt

Paul blurred his metaphors
and the images
from the old cellar
where his mouth first filled
with self-loathing.

He spoke, I have not survived
as each day I wait
for a sense of ending.

And as beneficial
as your listening is to me,
it is not an ending
or a beginning to an end
or anything other than
the completion of a connection
through storytelling.

But not if you run away.
Emotionally I mean.
In the manner of
That is his problem.
I am speaking about
how do I inhabit
my own body?
Or endure the press
of a woman’s body
against mine?

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Top Of My Right Ear

We practice
some body contortions
and some simple positions
so our scars press
against each other
with the understanding
those pale lines
represent us
at our most open,
raw and vulnerable.

Taking turns
our tongues
tell our scars’ stories
even if the telling
drops our words
into whispers.

With our bare fingers,
we practice
learning this odd
raised-skin Braille
so we may decipher
the words that never
find their way
to our tongues
and so, by chance,
our fingers may recognize
and translate the pain
that never broke skin.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Wait For The Next Full Moon

It is Summer. Paul is cold.
His spine shivers. His ribcage rattles.

His shallow breath
suffocates his heart’s fire.

He will not share this memory
with you, or anyone,

because he has not yet shared it
with himself.

He was in his thirties
when the memory began to emerge.

Somehow genetics knows
only an adult can process certain experiences.

If only the release of this memory
did not have a time stamp,

forcing Paul to relive it again as though
he was four to seven years old.

How his logical mind fights the process
with adult suppression techniques

such as blended whiskeys, work
and over-the-counter medications.

His left arm trembles
as he reaches for the latest miracle cure

which is the booted foot
kicking the can farther down a long road.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


Paul saw a boy he never knew.
A turn-around memory
of an instant before shadow
accelerated a blur and mist.
No personal definition—
hair color or eye color or name.
Just a red and white striped t-shirt
and pale skin with freckles.

No more detail arrives from a re-collection
of long ago moments,
no matter how Paul tries to assemble them,
jigsaw them, collage them.

Always his efforts feel the disruption
of the passing train’s silvery blur,
squealing steel wheels grating the track
the disorientation skew
of his battering heartbeat bulging veins,
upturned eyes view the top of his cloudy head,
the ground rushing up to cradle him.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney