We Worked and Worked

We crossed the stone wall—
rocks set upon each other
up to the knee.

There were holes between some rocks
as if smaller rocks should be wedged
to sustain the formation.

It was easy to cross over
but impossible to return
even to aid a friend who stumbled.

We’d been told the Mexican coyotes
brought undocumented folks
up dry stream beds

and that here drug mules
evaded federal agents
and their drug sniffing dogs.

We saw no sign of such maneuvers
engines of transport
or spotlights flicked on at night.

We found brooms stacked like arms.
There was a note attached
but we could not read it in the moonlight.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney


The river we crossed
had shade from trees
just as we were promised.

The river looked like any other river
on a broad plain.
It had no serpents or quicksand.

Our rest was for a midday meal
and to wait for others
we were sure walked behind us.

How we crossed I cannot say.
There was no ferry or boat.
There was no bridge or pontoon.

I remember when it arrived
the night was darker than usual
and the stars held unfamiliar stories.

During the night we heard hooves
amble by in great numbers
like buffalo or cows.

By morning there was no sign
of a single print in the ground
no broken blade of grass.

When dawn broke the horizon
we heard a choir sustain
a solitary note from far away.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney


In time I will expire.
I have no expiration date.

How did an omniscient god
not print this number somewhere on my body?

How may I budget my retirement
without this detail?

What if I run out of money
before the end?

What if my excess capital
causes my inheritors to fight

and squander their inheritance
on lawyers?

I will pre-designate
those who preserve the landscape

of hills and woods once soaked red
with American blood.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Heritable Changes

I saw my likeness
in the sepia tones of a daguerreotype.

A single ostrich feather in my Hardee hat.
The face stony, holding still for the exposure.

I was dressed for war.
Adorned with war’s accoutrements.

Then I saw the dead
the man who shared my likeness killed

with a Merrill carbine
and three Colt six-shooters.

I saw hope in the dead’s eyes
upon me spying them within the bounds of the photo

like suddenly their fright evaporated
and their shaking ceased.

Like the trauma of the grievous wounds
settled in my generation and expired.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Downhill Toward a Hairpin Curve

Paul drove his dad to the hazardous waste dump.
His dad radiated a cobalt blue glow.

This glow was his nature shining through his death
as the body initiated decomposition.

He was a mean old cuss who was not afraid
to shoot your dog to make a point.

Paul feared the incineration of cremation
would release toxic particulate into the air.

He wanted professionals who would neutralize
the acid tongue that spoke from a heart of darkness.

He was sure he would have to junk his car
once this ride was over.

Nothing would get that blue glow
out of the upholstery.

The Geiger counter he carried on walks
through the desert near Los Alamos clicked regularly.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Intensifying Sadness

Sometimes I have trouble
falling asleep at night
as I try to figure out
for my last will and testament
who will sing aloud
Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah
at my memorial.

And I wonder if it is
too much to dare
to ask all the attendees
to join in on the chorus
even though my fear
is that not one person
will be in attendance
since I am the youngest
in my circle of friends
and my only child died
over thirty years ago.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Four A.M. Shooting

The howl sticks in my throat
machetes my vocal cords
due to their restraint
at placing vile and volatile words
over the purple flowers
of a glorious sun rise.

The blood that remains
on the sidewalk
near the Lady of Guadalupe altar
I push-broom into the dirt
thus bury that part of the victim
separate from where the family will mourn.

A pail of soapy water
with sponge and scrub brush
cleans the sidewalk
and any splatter that left droplets
on the alter.

On hands and knees
the smallness of this block
settles upon me
as I insistently take in
the beauty of the grass
bushes and flowers.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Four Mile Grove

On the way to the cemetery
to pour scotch under a headstone
Paul passes a ranch
with buck tails nailed to the top rails
between seventeen posts.

His car slides slightly over
the dashed dividing line
barely perceptible on the old asphalt
as the car begins the climb
up the mountain.

The oncoming car’s horn
is friendly enough
so that when he sees the driver’s face
it is not behind a middle finger
waved in his direction.

Four mile grove cemetery
is an historical snapshot
in old stone worn at the edges
crumbled in places
and a lack of a caretaker.

As he pours two fingers of scotch
on the grass below the newest headstone
the crude voice of the earth
sings a benediction that informs Paul
it is time to move on.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Beneath Our Feet

No one I know
has ever given a grave
as a Christmas present.

I assume you wear scrubs
and turned your car’s engine off
before the hospital.

I invented this coring machine
that extracts holes
for placing the dead standing up.

I imagine you singing
in the surgical theater
hands moving like a pianist.

Property has become so expensive
there are no new cemeteries
and the old ones are three deep.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney


Paul’s dreams focused on the olfactory.
Unknown smells of obscure origins.
Smoke infused with grief.
Wet metal of a bell awaiting the call to prayer.

He recalled being five years old
and pushing a feather up his nose.
His first day In kindergarten
it was crayons.

At Sunday school the teachers
never brought in frankincense or myrrh
for them to scratch and sniff.
He never determined if his newborn brother was special.

Paul used his nose to detect Death’s approach
and managed to sidestep each grasp
before the boney hand
landed upon his shoulder.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney