Suddenly

Bethany awoke
naked and confused
as a morning shower
dotted her skin
in a breezeless field
of lavender rows.

She sat up
and spotted
her dropped cloths
leading back
to the two-lane
highway—
the only way
in or out
of the peninsula.

She remembered
walking away
from a rumor-filled
harbor town
where pedestrian eyes
drilled holes in her spine
and the neighbor
who poisoned her dog.

A golden retriever
bounded
down the heavily
scented rows
to investigate her,
bowled her over
back onto the dirt
and planted
dog kisses
upon her
tight-lipped face.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Pink Pearl

Paul did not remember
what he told Dora
of his gospel of terror
and that he
is merely a reflection
of the clouds
on the river’s surface.

He remembers
how he and Dora
flapped their arms
and laughed
until tears
squeezed out
of their eyes
under the cedar waxwings
in the hawthorn tree.

He thinks about
how the world looks
from the river bottom
eyes open looking up
through the
tannin curtain
at the passing clouds
and the blackbirds
in the cattails.

It explains
that look
he often wears
and how his logic
has this sense
of erasure
as the pebble
strikes the surface
and ripples
through the clouds.


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

In The Bloodstream

Where lies the key?
I checked every pocket.
Every nook and cranny.

In and under
fifty-three self-help books
by domestic and foreign authors.

At a job fair I learned
I should use my gifts
toward my perfect career

which left me with the choice
of joining the French Foreign Legion
or becoming a suicide bomber.

As I practice exhaling the apocalypse
and envisioning a future
less bright than a nuclear explosion,

I am certain the mightiest proof
of my inner strength
is that I decided to make a career

out of bicycling from my front door
to Who-Knows-Where America
with the notion of reaching Nirvana

somewhere in between
leaving it all behind
and a collision with an untoward fate.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

In A Way That Will Change Him

At Rockford University,
in an upstairs lounge,
a poetry reading takes place.

The poet ignores the itch
upon the bridge of his nose
and forces his right hand down.

His words echo off the walls.
They jump on the couch with orange cushions.
They rock the lampshades.

There are no bodies to absorb
the report of his strident voice.
No ears to take in his pastoral descriptions.

This is not practice.
This is not a man in love with his own voice.
You cannot see his poems are a tool for letting go.

How each word tethers a time and event
and releases little pieces of the trenches
outside of Petersburg into the air.

But it is his descriptions of Appomattox
with its surrounding farm fields on rolling hills,
its oak and hickory stands

that he focuses on in his search for peace.
An inner peace where the wars that divide him
come to a gracious and generous close.

As his eyes move as if the room were full,
he catches sight of several mourning doves,
landing on an oak branch outside the window.

He takes this as a sign
and lets his voice dwindle and settle
onto the polished floorboards.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Purification

I spilled out of myself yesterday.
It was oral. I mean verbal.

A lot of words strung together,
sometimes coherently.

I made a mess of the cafe table top.
The Cin-O-Bun soaked up a few fragments.

It happened in front of a girl.
Name unknown. Braces tinned her smile.

I cannot determine if she was
a target of opportunity

or simply near the dumping zone,
hazarding collateral damage.

There were plenty of melodramatics
smeared on the table.

The girl flagged down a busboy.
He wiped the table clean as a whistle.

All my spontaneous confessions
now afloat in soapy water,

soon to go down the drain
to the treatment plant for purification.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Recognition

If I inherited
my parents’ home,
I would have
taken it apart
brick by brick
and paid for
the foundation
to be extracted
from the ground.

Knowing that
sitting beneath
any hawthorn tree
with darting cardinals
and cedar waxwings
feels like home
as long as I
hold Seymour
the troll doll
my eldest brother
gave me
one long ago
Christmas.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Overdose

The MRI did not reveal
your deeper injuries.

There was no remedy
for what you could not speak aloud.

You spoke of this prickly black ball
that contained lightning.

Sheets struck your heart.
Its thunder trembled your limbs.

For a time you practiced self-medication
through sex and baseball.

After seven therapists
saw you only as a subject

you found a counselor
at a church clinic helping mostly addicts.

She was the first to see you.
A living, grieving person.

You threw yourself into the black maelstrom
sure your masters level education would prevail.

But you never found words to describe
what occurred before you acquired speech.

As unmoored shame overwhelmed
your other emotions,

sex took a sick twisted turn
and baseball turned into bar fights.

You blamed yourself time and again
for not succeeding.

Alone, you died unable to bear
not decoding the redacted variables.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

postscript

Nine people I have known chose to take their own lives. I think that number large for one person. My guess is that it is because I have lived in communities full of artists, poets, and musicians. I have read that doctors, dentists, and lawyers have higher suicide rates. Maybe they are spread out enough through the neighborhoods.

I have lived with depression all my life. PTSD most of my life. There are good days and bad days. Hard work with therapists, a support system of caring people, creative outlets and good fortunate kept my bad days from taking me past the line to suicide when life was most difficult.

Turn About

Paul fell into a dark place.
He immediately stopped digging
even though he walked city streets.
He guessed he fell into a manhole.
He worried it was a black hole.

Paul chose to stand silent.
Not a peep came out of him.
After an undefined measure of time
he looked up to determine
if a cap of sky was above him.

There was light above him.
Way far above him.
He could not tell if the light
was sky blue, cloud white
or an inspiring memory.

Paul thought about his falling.
It was not a tail spin.
There was no plunging downward.
There was the abrupt sadness
like a dove hitting a window.

He pulled out his smart phone
and opened his calendar.
A black dot marked this day.
No information followed the dot.
No time frame. It repeated yearly.

Paul recognized this darkness
as the black of a black & white memory.
He tipped his cap to the sadness.
The hurt that formed the sadness receded.
The cap of sky broadened, came closer.

The darkness fell away from Paul.
Turn about was fair play.
Paul acknowledged life does not play fair.
Spotting a nearby bench, he sat.
The bus stop bench accepted his weight.

He examined his daughter’s bright life.
He looked at a black and white memory photo album.
He touched the horror of the day she died.
A bus pulled up to the stop.
Paul continued his walk in the city.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Fevered

Angela crawled into her cage.
Her cage: a second floor duplex.
A dark cave her depression created.
Carved in the shape of a reading room with no lights.

Angela’s occasional appearances dared us to like her.
She pretended to dislike all of us.
She disliked herself too much to like anyone.
Or believe they could like her.

Her face saw the sun so infrequently it seemed porcelain.
If she located an invisible wall she could be mistaken for a mime.
She had plenty of invisible walls.
Our attempts at friendship ran into them regularly.

Angela was accomplished at suffering.
Her suffering transformed into poetry.
Some of her poetry made your face blanche as white as hers.
To hear her poetry was to experience deranged sacredness.

We asked our local church to add a side alter dedicated to Angela.
The church refused our request.
Her suffering was not recognized by the Vatican.
Angela miracles had not yet been confirmed.

Knowing Angela’s story, we thought her life a miracle.
Being kind toward others after such violence: a miracle.
Being loving toward others after such sexual abuse: a miracle.
See! Two miracles! Pay attention, Vatican!

Angela crawled into her cage one winter.
She relabeled it a cave for hibernation.
It remained a reading room to casual observation.
She placed every ounce of her suffering into new poems.

The white pages could not contain such intensity.
The papers burst into flames and spread.
Her upper burned without damaging the lower unit.
A third miracle, Vatican!

Angela survived this conflagration.
She used it as a metaphor for a gateway.
I saw her smile today at the cafe.
She returned my wave hello.

She seemed more human now, with a ragged sacredness.
Her poems won accolades and awards.
She never read her poems in public.
She refused to live within the province of those words.


copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney

postscript

Okay. It is Christmas Eve and I am posting a poem about depression and beating depression and the miracle of people living through depression. But the holidays are the most depressing time of the year for depressed people who feel more acutely alone at this time, because they do not have friends or family to spend the holidays with. Or worse, they know they are depressed and purposefully shut themselves off not wishing to detract from others’ joy.

My recollection of reading about the Christian Saints is that most of them were elevated to sainthood for maintaining a christian love while living under strong duress and pain in one form or another. I think people who live with depression, yet find a way to be kind and loving are exerting saint-like effort. Feel free to plug in a different word for depression, like handicapped or poverty.

There are days when I think of the word Jihad. I mean the definition: the spiritual struggle within oneself against sin. People who face adversity must struggle with the easy out of blaming their circumstances for sinful behavior. People who have privilege must struggle against the ease of sinful behavior, since they can use their privilege to bully justice.

I wish for all of you the strength and wisdom to be the kind, loving, caring person who seeks fair play and justice. I expect you to draw boundaries and use strength to maintain yourself, both physically and in spirit. Be who you are wholly and completely.

Love & Light. Tree & Leaf.

Kenneth