Gangsters

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

Heritable Changes

I saw my likeness
in the sepia tones of a daguerreotype.

A single ostrich feather in my Hardee hat.
The face stony, holding still for the exposure.

I was dressed for war.
Adorned with war’s accoutrements.

Then I saw the dead
the man who shared my likeness killed

with a Merrill carbine
and three Colt six-shooters.

I saw hope in the dead’s eyes
upon me spying them within the bounds of the photo

like suddenly their fright evaporated
and their shaking ceased.

Like the trauma of the grievous wounds
settled in my generation and expired.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Lack of Patriotism

The dead lived here once.
Their ghosts are quiet and content.

This is the garden they tended.
Here stands the stonewall they built.

This chimney has three hundred years practice
channeling smoke from fire to sky.

There above the hearth rests a musket
once wielded in the cause of liberty.

When I fetch candles from the pantry
I brush against all those ghostly hands fetching candles.

But I am the first in the line to drink tea.
I feel those departed coffee drinkers frown in disgust.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Memorial Day

Thirty years to the day
after we spread dad’s ashes
in the cornfields of his youth

he stands in front of me
even after I pinch myself
to be sure I am not dreaming.

He is the younger version of himself
that I never met
being born twenty years into his marriage.

His lips move but no sound.
I ask him to repeat himself.
His lips move but no sound again.

I ask if he can bring Albuquerque rain.
He shakes his head.
I hear the mechanism click

that turns the water on
to the drip system in the garden
for butterfly bushes and bee balm.

He shakes his head.
He laughs soundlessly
and passes through the kitchen sink

to the outdoor barbecue
on Memorial Day.
I do not think chemists

who made World War II bombs
bigger and more explosive
are commemorated on this day.

In the Chicagoland house of my youth
we never had a barbecue
so why would he start now?

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Closed With I Love You

My daughter’s voice
tumbled zeros and ones
into new configurations
on a phone company server bank.

Hearing her voice
thirty-one years after her death
droned my chest
with fluctuating neural signals.

Those skipped heartbeats
I will never get back.
My extremities blued
as I listened to her message.

The closing beep
signaled back to normal
at an unconscious level
of mental processing.

I smacked myself on the forehead
for automatically hitting delete
instead of replay
to hear her voice again.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

I Write This At Our Old Table

Your appearance
in ghostly form
explains your disappearance
to a small degree.

I preferred it
when you lived and breathed
but accept seeing you
at your old haunts.

In some of those places
your voice hides in corners
and I hear them
as a whisper even when in song.

You ask about your life.
I am reluctant to explain it
since I believe
you should be letting go

for release into the next world
and what it holds
but it could be you have amends
to make after death’s epiphanies.

Not amends but forgiveness.
Not them forgiving you.
But you forgiving them
in their presence and to their faces.

This is so bitterness and pain
fail to lock you to these familiar places
even though I remember them
as places of laughter.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

As Long As It’s Out of Here

Although I live in Albuquerque
I see Dickensian ghosts.
Not a single Pueblo, Apache or buffalo soldier ghost.

Many of the ghosts are Marley-esque
but draped in modern clothes.
Some wear cowboy hats atop their heads.

A significant number of the ghosts
migrated here from the antebellum south
and appear to be plantation owners.

Since they are all white, I think
Capitalism occasions ghosts
through shoddy treatment of the poor.

Not all the ghosts wear Marley’s rattling chains.
Some are wrapped in barbed wire.
Others pierced with many fly-fishing hooks.

I have wondered Why Albuquerque?
and Why not Albuquerque?
as their destination and residence.

I think I will organize a roundup
like the ghosts are cattle on open range
and then drive them—somewhere.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Construct

You cannot see
from this poem
that I am thinking
in italics.

My font choice
is my first falsehood of the day.

When you asked
How did you sleep?
Understanding in modern society
that such questions
do not seek an honest answer
I respond with a monotone, Fine.

A Second lie.

So it goes through the day.
A few bold face lies
but half-truths or subversions mostly
seeking advantage or conflict avoidance.

All in the convention
of ghosts emerging from a cornfield
and materializing into ballplayers—
like in the postcard from Dyersville, Iowa
push-pinned to the wall
above my writing desk.

I like to think my life has a moral
guided by an unseen hand—voice.
Build it and he will come.
Ease his pain.
Go the distance.

But baseball taught me
to steal signs and second
and if I am not cheating
I am not really trying hard enough
to win.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Slightest Vanity

He must have known
the ghost he ran into
by the peach orchard
not far from Shiloh church.

Paul opened a spectral door
at the road junction
adjacent to what is now called
the Bloody Pond.

He waved his hand
as if to usher them in
for a cup of coffee
with cream and sugar.

The three ghosts who came through
kept an ear cocked toward
the Tennessee river
and bolted about four p.m.

for Pittsburg Landing
no matter Paul’s remonstrations
that the war was more
than one hundred and fifty years over.

Paul dug his toe into the dirt
knowing any souvenir was long gone
but kept thinking about the one ghost
without a belt or suspenders

who periodically hiked up his pants
and pushed his belly out
as if that pressing action
would hold his sky blue pants in place.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney