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.



Do not ask me to consider
raising my mother to the level of saint.

I am sure there were significant amounts
of martyrdom, being an early twentieth century woman.

But I have no desire to open
my grave memories of her

for you and others to claim finger bones
or locks of hair for your reliquaries.

Why aren’t your coming of age memories of my mother
enough to maintain her in your mindfulness?

Why do you not understand how Richard’s death
and her miscarriages affected her?

The earth can absorb her full history.
The salt of her humanity rise in trees.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


My mother passed away in 2001. I remember the funeral and the greeting line post funeral. Over three hundred people attended. Many, maybe most, were women who my mother had mentored through Girl Scouts. There experience of her was very different than mine. I remember the gush of their praise of her to me.

My mother’s ashes were spread among the trees at a Girl Scout camp that she attended each year as a leader.

After Our Daughter's Death

Our home became a house.
A house on an island instead of outside of town.

Our ears became open wounds.
Words became salt.

We took Sadness in as a boarder.
We don’t remember inviting Sadness to stay.

Sadness practiced magical spells
that turned our blood to sludge.

Sadness promised to pay us monthly
with a bucket of tears.

A few people rented their respects to us.
They charged late fees on the returns.

We had not read friendship’s fine print.
No wonder our friend numbers contracted.

Our island was washed away
by a bomb cyclone divorce storm.

Our neighbors were relieved by our absence.
Our friends had no clue where the far shore was.

In divorce we split Sadness in two.
She kept both of the dogs.

I let my half of Sadness go so I could hold on to Loneliness.
They were kissing cousins willing to share me.

The day I lost eighteen hours in a blue ocean
was the day I understood I needed a life boat.

I built a life boat out of poetry and therapists
and bicycling and the wooded landscape.

Sadness helped keep the life boat afloat
by paying up on its overdue rent.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


It is coming up on 30 years since all of this happened. It still touches me from time to time. One of the disadvantages of memory. I remember my therapist telling me that 85% of couples who lose a child end up in divorce by the end of the first year after the loss. In some ways I think the divorce was the start of moving on from the loss.

In the poem I am a little hard on friends. I should not be. We were all in our late 20s early 30s and no one knew how to deal with this sort of tragedy. Learning curve mistakes were made by everyone.

I hope none of you suffer a heart breaking loss like this in your life time. Be generous of spirit with yourself if it does. Be full of emotions as well. If you hold onto the pain of the tragedy too long it will twist your growing.

I am feeling it all over again as I write this postscript. Not in a bad way. Feelings with a reminder of sadness and weariness. It will calm down when I am ten minutes out from typing.

Love & Light. Tree & Leaf.


Autodial Once A Day

As copper coins sink
into the withered eyes,
his favorite cologne stains
the simple pine box
and per his instructions
mother dials his phone number
so it rings from within his pocket
and his recorded voice speaks
greeting to the anticipated
creepy crawlies.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney

Our Side

I no longer want to know the names of soldiers.
Good or bad, they are as thick as weeds.
All of them should cross over the river
to rest under the shade of trees.

The ground under that wide spread oak,
where the children share stories
and play chase games,
harbors a mass of steel helmets.

Their dogs dig up
an abundance of bones to gnaw
on history purposefully forgotten
so forgiveness might triumph over vengeance.

The river, as it is wont to do, will change course in time
and wash away the children’s footprints,
the dogs’ paw prints, the wide spread oak
and the tarnished rusted glory down below.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney