Movie

In the movie about that dad
who pushes his kids too hard.
He pushes those people
who exploit his kids’s
status as phenoms
just as hard.

I will leave it to you to guess
if the movies shows the kids
playing on grass
playing on a chalk marked field
playing on concrete.

I will leave it to you to guess
if it is a father-son movie
or a father-daughter movie
or if the featured kid
is gay, straight or trans.

I will leave it to you to guess
what type and shape of ball
the kids were phenomenal at playing.
Or if their genius set game pieces
on a checkered board.

I will tell you that no animals
were injured in the making
of this movie.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Father

I understand now.
I am slow. It took me some time.
Only the living change clothes
and addresses.

Oh! That explains why burial crypts
have many drawers—
none filled with shirts
or undergarments.

Last week I looked at your headstone
and wondered why
with all our technology
the stone is not shaped like your head.

I placed a Brooks Brothers catalogue
in your grave before the dirt covered you.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

postscript

This poem is about a father—not my father.

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

That Is Enough

Three decades have passed
since we eulogized my father
in the First Congregational Church.

The largest test of manhood I ever took
was to gracefully appreciate
all the good things others related to me

while I was silently relieved
he was gone from human form
and unmet father-son relations.

I grew up alright without ever
going hunting, fishing
or to a ball game with my father.

It was a less muscular manhood
I learned reading books
and bicycling long distances.

His version of Cowboy-up was not going to the ER
the day basketball mangled my right ankle.
We waited two days for a regular doctor appointment

as the breaks and ligament tears
painfully protested the lack of attention
by turning colors and swelling to great size.

I guess that did obliquely prepare me
for the rigors of adulthood
since hope and success are both painful.

I learned on my own to be the author
of definitions of the terms
and to judge my effort’s results.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Miles & Years Away

In my mind’s night
memory fields blossom
with an abstract
of what I have lived.

How can I feel
you chew your tobacco
when you are buried
in your threadbare jeans?

Or that happy hour
when that first burn slick
of Kentucky bourbon
scarred my throat.

If I add a shot before sleep
my memory fields bloom
with father’s work
when he was a teen

clearing by hand
all the weeds from between
long green rows
of waist-high maize

with his farmer’s tan
contrasting against
his sweat soaked white t-shirt
crossed by brown suspenders.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Disrobing

I thought I was home.
I was in the arctic.

I climbed out of my father
and left his body upon the ice.

The relative temperature felt the same
against bare skin.

I mean I left behind his behaviors I learned
through childhood observation.

I mean I never want my hand
to make a fist to teach a lesson.

Not even to punch a hole
through the darkness in search of light.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Father On His Son’s Birthday

Alone, on the old Manassas Battlefield,
I wait for you, for what you might be,
what I might become. I sit
on the thick grass near the Robinson House
and listen to the voices of birds,
the voices of the old bronze monuments,
the voices on the wind as it moves through the branches.

If you have grown into yourself, as I hope,
how will I recognize your voice,
the different tread of your footsteps,
the recent histories you speak?

Lonely, I walk down to the stone bridge—
Bull Run flows as it has for years uncounted—
to the new road that layers itself
upon the old road that once carried limbers
and their combative cannon.

Lonely, I trust that our battles ended,
that a reconstruction of our friendship
returns like the song birds
to find the berries ripe upon the branches,
like the farmers who till the fields
as all their forefathers before them.

If you have grown into yourself, as I hope,
you do not need me anymore,
do not require my advice or guidance.
Boldly, you make your own history.

Alone, on the old Manassas Battlefield,
I walk the slight path past the farm ford
and up the flanks of Matthews Hill
where Evans once stood up to Burnside,
where you, my son, first stood up to me.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

postscript

I ran out of new work that I felt good enough to post, since I had a tough writing week where creativity was scarce. This poem is from my book Fluid Shape Of An Empty Womb. It is one of my all time favorites of my own poems.

Lights Go Out

On a bedstand
a sprig of lavender dries

over a photo of Father
wearing one of his rare smiles.

A curtain of song
darkens a quartet of windows.

Liberated,
Lori’s hair falls past her shoulders.

From another room,
the news describes the violence

of the ignored
refusing to be the ignored any longer.

She whispers a prayer
for the protesters and law enforcement.

The sky reddens.
She fears the phone may ring.

She settles into her bed.
A block of ice.

The lavender scent
flashes images of her very first dog.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Like Any Good Son

Like any good son,
I was not good all the time.

Like many good sons,
I grew up, attended university,

forged my own life and career
which took me far from my father’s house.

Because I was far away in my own life,
I was not by my father’s side when he died.

He died in an auto accident,
so it is a good thing I was not by his side.

I attended his memorial in the church
he attended every Sunday for fifty years.

The service was midwestern-protestant
and beautiful in that manner.

Three hundred mourners told me
how his goodness touched them.

Like any good son, I kept quiet
about all the times he was not good.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Stiff

A father sledgehammers his son
with the “big boys don’t cry” lie.

The son learns to cry
in his own time, his own space.

There is a large rock upon the mountain
that collects his tears in a granite bowl.

The steel of the son’s spirit
strikes sparks upon the rock with each drop.

The son realizes the polished steel
is a looking glass and a weapon.

He chooses to use that steel
to prop his eyes open to the light.

In that light, he discerns the generational pain
lashed to his father’s hard words.

The son searches family photo albums
to learn what is long gone and sharply missed.

The photos devolve from color,
to black and white, to a stiff sepia.


copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney