Mother and Dog

In all the years since my mother’s death
she has not once visited me in ghostly form.

I take this as a sign she is at peace
and the hereafter is more like a craft project than a poem.

I know I was not easy to raise.
My rascally brain did not appreciate syntax or logic.

She was like a window shade kept down
to keep a house plant from the sun.

I grew anyway—tall, thin and awkward.
It took befriending a dog for me to fill out in mind and body.

Time treated mother and me the same in spite of our differences.
Our similarities. Our love of mac & cheese.

When I picture her in my mind
I hold her hand when we cross the street.

copyright © 2023 Kenneth P. Gurney


I was raised by the many ghosts of the great depression.
The did not haunt the house, but haunted my parents.

The ghosts remained dormant until money became a topic.
The ghosts lived in my dad’s wallet and inside two checkbooks.

The ghosts did not follow the family into Sunday church
where father managed to liberate a fiver for the collection plate.

The ghosts preferred to crowd the bank
and change the expressions on the bank clerks’ faces.

The bank clerks’ new expressions were akin to recognizing
John Dillinger or Bonnie and Clyde.

My father looked nothing like Clyde Chestnut Barrow.
My mother had Bonnie Elizabeth Parker’s lithe stance.

copyright © 2023 Kenneth P. Gurney

Invisible Ink Tattoo

Grandfather’s death was undramatic.
He waited on a seat at the Dallas Airport
for his return flight to Illinois
and fell asleep for ever.

It was hours before anyone noticed
that Death stopped by
preempted grandfather’s flight
and return to the farm.

His death was my second death
in a span of a few months—
my brother was first.
He was thirteen.

There was an emptying lack
of explanation or inclusion.
I never met the security guard
who discovered grandfather’s perpetual stillness.

I could not get enough red licorice whips.
The moon seemed impossibly close
and more silent that usual.
My stuffed animals became more alive.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

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