We sought to liberate the slave
from the cruelness
of sun, field and lash

but did not consider
the eternal enmity
of former owners in defeat.

We could have swept
the Old Dominion state
clean into the ocean.

Cleared it
of plantation owners
and the white working class.

The radical Republicans
desired something
akin to that response.

Mr. Lincoln desired
a new testament ending
rather than an old one.

So we honored
the terms Grant delivered
and filled no more coffins.

But it was we
who suffered future retribution
for simply breathing free air.

copyright © 2023 Kenneth P. Gurney

Google Maps of Charleston

It has been one hundred and sixty years
since Lieutenant Henry S. Farley
on the orders of Captain George S. James
pulled the lanyard and fired
the first shot at Fort Sumter
in earnest initiation of the Civil War.

And I find my mind drawn
to Fort Johnson every few years
by folks with grievances
against our democracy.
Its imperfect distribution of wealth
and application of rights.

Today it is the January sixth seditionists
and their heartfelt supporters
who wish for genocide on a national scale
over Stop the Steal lies
cancel culture night-terrors
the loss of privilege
and having to face scarcity
in a time of income inequality.

The stench of the pandemic dead
does not infiltrate their noses
with their focus on glowing smart phone screens
to predict and map
the explosive fire of hateful rhetoric
recited like Hail Mary rosaries
inside disinformation loops and bubbles.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney


The photographer
repositioned the body
of the soldier
to make the composition
more dramatic.

He knew a distorted truth
sold better than
the naked truth
unless the naked truth
was a naked lady.
But that was not gentlemanly
or a proper subject.

The photographer
knew the truth
was already distorted
since burial parties
removed most of the bodies
to place them side by side
in long trenches
with no markers.

This poor fellow
was oddly preserved.
Not bloated or blue-skinned.
The photographer guessed
the man died during the night
after his late arrival—
died an agonizing two days
after the fighting ended
and the armies withdrew.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Off Tour South of Sharpsburg

I spoke. My words
stumbled on the uneven ground.

They thudded into the grassy dirt
dinged their smooth lines and broke a few serifs.

Just below the surface
a lost and forgotten bronze plaque slept.

Carolina wrens broadcast its discovery.
Curiosity instituted mission creep.

My walk stalled.
I cleared sleep from the plaque’s I’s.

Most of the letters were gone.
My fallen words began to refill the bronze surface.

But I did not recognize speaking them.
So they were now unknown to me.

They noted a bitter end.
They named a stranger from far away.

To the north stood the inverted cannon
where Isaac Peace Rodman fell.

Though I was closer to Lawrence O’Brien Branch
and where his brigade fought.

When I reread the plaque
a drawl grabbed my tongue and mouth.

Thirty-seven is a prime number
which I always believed brought luck.

But not that long ago September
for the Gaston Blues.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney


The Gaston Blues were company H of the 37th North Carolina Infantry, part of Lawrence O’Brien Branch’s brigade.

The town of Sharpsburg, MD is surrounded on three sides by the Antietam National Battlefield. I have spent over 100 days exploring that battlefield.


In a wheelchair
at a rural intersection
with the only traffic light for miles
sits a battered Teddy Bear
propping up a cardboard sign:
Homeless War Vet.

Under the shade of trees
a man with prosthetic legs
appears to snooze
through the awfulness
after twenty-eight straight days
without a bed or shower.

The sycamore trees,
old as the Civil War,
mark a property boundary
in the county land records
that go back
to nineteen-eighteen
when his great grandfather
purchased the farm
from the bank
after its owners,
with no successors,
died of the influenza.

With no traffic
at the red light
children bound
out of a solitary car
with less than
one dollar in change
for the Teddy Bear.
But that does not
fill his vest pocket
or the income gap
during the pandemic.

So history repeats itself.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney


Last night I watched
a documentary
on Gettysburg
and I was surprised
how they dumbed it down
and left out large portions
of the battlefield conflict
to focus on individuals’

Although these accounts
were interesting
and brought a human element
to the history,
no viewer could understand
the information
and misinformation
commanders made
their decisions by
or the battle as a whole.

Then I thought
maybe that was the point.
There is no understanding war
only the monotony
that precedes the maelstrom
and the constant heave
of the knife’s edge
that separates
courage from terror.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Clover Leaf

With a finger pressed
in chiseled white letters,
Delphi rubs silence
from the stones lining Arlington,
washes once bellicose soldiers
with an old prayer recited,
hears the long roll of drums.
Her bare feet press the echo
of church bells into the ground
beyond the bent green grass
grown about the singular flower
of the old Second Corp.

Copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


This is another poem from my past as I regroup from a week of spare creativity. Tomorrow will have a new poem, recent poem.

Up From The Tidewater

I walk the sawgrass
adjacent to rounded
civil war earthworks
where a shore battery
endured a long bombardment
from the Union fleet
and with each slow step I take
I let my toes feel the soft ground
as if they can detect
shell casings embedded
in the sandy soil
and whether that ordnance
is expended
or remains live
after a century and a half.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


The jacket in the attic, the cedar chest,
on top of dilapidated shoes
displays a hole with blood stains
that match up with
a once white, weather stained shirt.

Butternut—a gray dye faded from the sun
over the many marched miles.
No kepi with sky blue stripe.
Great grandfather’s unit
wore straw hats that summer, not pressed felt.

No old photo for frame or locket.
They were much too poor.
The rich man’s tool in war
with no slaves to lose.
Forty acres of bottom land to support seven.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney