Unfound Millions

My diligent ancestors
built a farm out of the wilderness
back when central Illinois
was wilderness.

At the time there was no
nearby town
so they were not
on the first Illinois maps.

My not-diligent ancestor
drank too much whiskey
every day of his life
and did foolish things while inebriated.

He once drove a team of horses
into the root cellar
mistaking its open doors
for horse barn.

All the horses died.
The fact he did not die that day
was a firm indication of the depth
of great grandmother’s Christian devotion.

If my not-diligent ancestor
had been born back
when there was no town nearby
whiskey would not have been available.

I never understood my diligent ancestors
where family history explained
that my not-diligent ancestor
always had money for whiskey and cigarettes.

Back in his life span
cigarette packs had baseball cards.
I searched musty boxes for days
seeking Honus Wagner and Cy Young.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney


When I visit
the old farmstead
and the nearby town
I look for faces
that mirror mine.

More often I find
no resemblance
and I have to accept
that most of the line
relocated to Iowa
during the oh-eight recession.

That said, the banker
recognizes my father in me
and offers to buy me lunch
at the diner that once served
great depression soup lines
so I can fill him in
on what our family is up to
since the wind scattered us.

He points out a youth movement
in farming with technology
and how the old timers
couldn’t make ends meet
on family farms now too small
for efficiencies
and market fluctuations.

He makes arrangements
for me to meet the young man
who rents our acreage
and the adjoined family farms
where GPS navigation
did not turn the tractor around
for three straight miles.

Though this young man is new,
he walks us straight to the rows
where my dad’s ashes
were plowed into the black soil
twenty-eight years ago.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


At four in the morning
I slipped out of bed
since my farmer genes
programed my eyes
to snap open.

With slow
and careful motions
I pull the dresser drawer
and remove clothes
to wear.

I stand at the door
of your bedroom
and take in the innocence
of you under the covers
with one foot sticking out.

Two of my fingers pass a kiss
from my lips to your cheek
and I turn to go
even though we sold off
the dairy cows last year.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


I witnessed the hanging tree
and the lynching ghosts
a few miles from the family farm
on a beat-up picture postcard.

Its commercialization curses the cropland.
Such community revelations
sear a peculiar brand on sons and daughters.
Petty political purity corrodes every plow.

Such events require a prudent family
animated by the fear of retaliation,
who employ wile and manipulation
instead of Christian ethics.

Grandfather, the January snows melt
to reveal what it once covered up.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney