Out of Mama’s House

A loop born of suffering
ties a family together.

Bless the baby girl
even though the parents wanted boys.

Dissatisfaction is a worn t-shirt
printed not good enough in sparkles.

Her community of voices
raises hope inside the cranium.

The obsessive daydream conversations
of a better life

dissociate and project her spirit
then body beyond the binding loop.

And away long before university
not to join a circus troupe.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

After Richard Died

Parents ignored the warning sign.
I broke things just to cry over our brokenness.

I remember there were times father wanted to unhinge me
and take a look under the hood.

He mistook my brain for steel girders
he could unscrew joint by joint and stack neatly.

I do not understand why two people who craved order
had children and all the accompanying messiness.

There was the subtle violence of being called by the wrong name.
How I saw more stars at night than others.

How I opened my mouth to speak
and words never came out in the right order.

How my word’s cluttered existence
dismantled my parents carefully constructed stiff upper lips.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Family Brief

My ancestors settled
on the glacier flattened lands
of central Illinois.

That was two hundred years ago.
Or eight generations.
I have photos only back to grandpa Frank.

In twenty-two years
the farm would be near
the startup town of Earlville.

Earlville was named after
Earlville New York
by an early settler.

According to the family history
not one family member participated
in the Black Hawk war.

My ancestors grew yellow corn
for two hundred years
and survived

all the storms
draughts and insects
that plague farmers.

Over the years
low crop prices forced
mission creep

upon each generation.
Grandpa Frank was also
an electrician.

My father grew up on the farm
and raised show ponies
to finance his university education.

The great depression
wiped out all his savings
along with most people’s savings.

He put himself through university
working as an electrician wiring a section
of Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Wrapped in Yellow Grains

My 1600s ancestors were farmers
who wanted to plow land
with their name on the title.

My three-times-great-grandfather
crossed the Atlantic
for upstate New York.

My great-great-grandfather
moved the family to Illinois
seven years before Lincoln.

My great-grandfather
was the last in the county
to purchase Mr. McCormick’s reaper.

My grandfather’s pickup
carried a star in the windshield
placed there by a thrown horseshoe.

My father was the first
to leave the farm for the city—
for a university education.

He returned to the farm regularly
but not to plow the land himself.
The farm village needed a dentist.

My father located his practice
in the city of his education—
which was Chicago.

My few visits to the farm in corn pollen season
twisted me into a bouquet of sneezes
and jaundiced my ancestral view of farm life.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney


My ability to determine
which secrets to keep
and which to expose
has something
to do with an oval
wooden frame
on the wall
that presents
cut locks of hair
from my ancestors.

Each lock is curled
like a nautilus spiral
above calligraphy script
that names the donor
and I hold the knowledge
that each lock
was taken from the head
as it rested in its casket
before public viewing
as was their custom.

In a box I possess
unmarked sepia photos
that are yellowed
at the card-stock edges
and I play a game
where I try to match
photo to name
by their hair.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney


May your hand
set upon your daughter’s head
be good and bestow blessings
as you locate encouraging words
for your voice to carry
to young ears.

This simple gesture
nearly lost in a thousand gestures
of parents with children
at a crowded beach
studded with sand castles
in various degrees of repair.

After noticing it
I stared across the horizon
to better view blessings past
when a familial hand
touched my crown
and encouraging words
were as good as birthday presents.

You placed a frisbee
in your daughter’s hand
and explained
the throwing motion again.
Your arm moved in demonstration.
You backed off ten steps
and joyously chased
her errant throw
into the waves.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney


Oceans are blind.
Telephone lines are deaf and dumb.

At the bottom of the ocean
lies ten thousand miles of transoceanic cables.

Text message threads.
Voice message threads.

Compressed image binary data bundles
decompress on transoceanic screens.

My new niece’s baby face
appears on my phone in Albuquerque

all the way from Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.
Apple of my eye.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Twenty-Nine Years On

My father died
on the third of August
nineteen ninety-two
in an auto accident
when he mistook
a two-way stop
for a four-way stop
after surviving
the nineteen-eighteen influenza
the great depression
World War Two
the Korean War
the death of his son
and a heart attack.

At his funeral
and after we spread
his ashes
over the cornfields
he farmed
as a young man
his voice kept appearing
in my ears
with mixed messages
about how I handled
the death of my daughter
and other aspects
of being a man.

If his voice showed up
in my dreams
I could have
written off the experience
as the chaotic language
dreams use for the dead
to communicate with the living
even if their fist pounds
into their open palm
and shouts
I should embrace
the church and work
not therapy
to quiet my pounding heart.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Before The World Worried

The year I went to the state fair
I was prone to getting lost in crowds.

I spent the entire afternoon at a demo
watching a man clean glasses for people.

His pitch was the cleaned glasses
would not fog up.

His fog maker steamed vapor
and he proved his claim true.

The man sold many jars of this cleaner.
I bought one with dropped change I collected.

Eventually my eldest brother found me
where I stood with clean glasses.

He jerked me up and carried me on his hip
back to the midway.

We waited by the candy apple stand
for the family to reassemble.

He did not buy me a candy apple
while we waited a few minutes.

He held my hand
until we entered the car for the ride home.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

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