Post Mortem

Father’s emptiness
spilled into every corner of the house.

His emptiness evicted his feelings.
Emptiness chilled him through and through.

Our house became the house of held breath.
Our house became the house of tangible absences.

In the yard we planted a memorial tree.
Its growth rings recorded a thousand confessed remorses.

Nothing I tell father goes past his ears.
His void does not carry sound.

Mother, broom in hand, swept emptiness
to the living room and under the carpet.

The house thought it protected the world
behind hidden doors.

After a year, the emptiness was a thin layer
of ash and dust still warm from the furnace.

After a year, I answered when my parents
called me by my brother’s name.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Graduating Class

The dead passed me one night
moving single file
over a forested hillside
on a trail I thought
worn only by me.

They stopped at the spot
where I liked to look at stars
within a ring of stones
that contained no signs
a fire had ever burned there.

I noticed they wore
a variety of clothes,
many wore hospital gowns.
I guess they wore
whatever they last wore in life.

As they stood between the stones
they were asked
their destination,
in the voice of a train station agent
without a hint of judgement.

One by one they answered.
And their forms dissolved into cinders,
the types of which
I have seen emitted from
steam engine locomotives.

Once they were all departed
I mounted the knoll.
Between the crown of stones,
I found no trace of ash
nor heard any voice make inquiry.

I followed the trail back
and ducked through
the lighted doorway
into my cozy home,
where I leafed through university yearbooks.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

To The Living

The pandemic contains
a lot of moments
my emotions
must work out
before my face
displays how I feel.

It also contains a lot of static
that clings to my brain,
calculating and decoding
noise for signals
that can be labeled True.

I picture the possibility
of writing my own truth
and repeating it over and over
until others sing it back to me,
but that, once attempted,
failed to return John Prine
to the living.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


It is important
while you live
that you talk
to the crows
and develop
a comfort level
with their acquaintance
since the ferry
across the river
is a myth
and to fly you across
only crows wings
will aid your escape
from earthly shadows.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


Mother just spoke.
They were good words.
Those words hung in the air.

They spoke of goodbye.
Not the goodbye after coffee,
but the goodbye of crossing over.

Heavy words rather than everyday words.
Love made them buoyant
and resonant in my ear and heart.

All people are new at dying.
In life, we are not so practiced
at letting go.

Her words were not of the other side,
but this side of love and might have beens.
The simple truth as if to prepare us.

As if we were still too young to see,
to understand the obvious,
to feel the frailness of her grip.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


This poem looks back to my mother’s passing in 2001.

Rolling Itself Into A Tight Ball

The way I
cupped the past
my hands began to tremble
and revealed everything
about this rusted bayonet.

As I ran my finger over its jagged triangle
the cruelty of its purpose
radiated into my experience
and a rare brain filament
lit through agitation.

A red flash of blood
on my lips dried
and I was loath
to allow a breath to escape
for fear of whose words
it might release.

The way I
cupped the past
blood of an unknown man,
a hundred and fifty-five years ago,
pulsed my stomach
and constricted
like his at the sundering impact.

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

Clean Away

A wake scheduled
for four-thirty in the morning
revels the scrape and rub
of knees and elbows
and the first lightning
of an approaching monsoon,
whose thunderclap
must be imagined
as six syllables
impacting the breastbone.

The gathered
form an imperfect circle
around a long time friend
who conjured the notion
that his ashes
be mixed
into the sandy ground
at first light.

The approaching storm
whips up such a violence
as we stir him
into the arroyo’s bank,
knowing the coming
flash flood
will strip him clean away.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


Your footsteps
jar the seismograph pen.

You carry the weight
of your friends’ deaths.

The faerie gate is near.
So is the ferryman with his bony hand.

Your steps cause no real damage
if you let go soon.

You discover
the weight is your pulling down

what would rise toward the heavens
left to its own accord.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


Tether held.
A field of farewells below.

My heart stopped.
The Beyond visible.
And the tethers hold.

A recess from pain.
A finger wag to worms.
A curt slap on crow beaks.

Arteries same as veins.
Oxygen exchange closed.

The Beyond nears.
Earth brown. Tree green.
A winged messenger.

The river.
A river of time white from memory.
A dissembling.

No retrograde.
The Beyond so familiar.

New assignments for each.
New tethers.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


A realization that sticks with me is that when a person dies, the atoms that form the person’s body do not die. They simply transfer to a different part of nature. Even in cremation the molecules may change due to the heat and flame, but the atoms do not alter.

One of my pet thoughts is that the soul resides in the weak and strong forces at the atomic level. And the soul is released when the bonds that hold our molecules and atoms as a bodily structure go away. This is just a thought. An intellectual curiosity. I suppose theologians would fervently argue against this notion.

The thought has ramifications for those mummies found in Egypt and other dry places. If the body never disassembles, the soul is never released. Thus we have ghosts.

Since I attended University in the 1970s, I have viewed religion as a social club that attempts to answer the unanswerable. And provide guidelines for living a moral life. Nothing wrong with that and much that is good. I do not care for those actions of some religious people where they intellectually moved a belief into a truth for themselves and then insist everyone believe like they do. Nor do I care for religious folk who propose violence as a means to an end. I am regularly amazed at all the people who claim to be brave, but are not brave enough to allow others to have differing, peaceful beliefs.

I am content not knowing the answer of what happens after death (Beyond). I will learn shortly after death takes place. What an adventure. I think it is important to be open to God’s truth, instead of constructing a possible-truth which predisposes the person to seeing only part of the whole.

Weighty thoughts for so early in the day.

Love & Light.