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


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

Marlboro Woman

Paul hears a strange voice.
With no one in sight he assumes it is from the ether.
He discounts the idea it might be God.

The voice affects his ears like a good merlot affects his throat.
He relaxes into the act of listening.
It does not sound like anyone he ever knew.

He identifies the voice as a deep female voice.
She talks to him like a buddy not a lover.
She reminds him of when he wore a blue kepi upon his head.

Paul never wore a blue kepi upon his head.
He was never a soldier blue reenacting the Civil War.
He once owned an officer’s red kepi of the Fifth New York Zouaves.

She reminds him of when his beard was long and braided.
He has never grown more than his current goatee.
He wonders why she talks about him instead of herself.

Paul calls out Hey spook show yourself.
The voice from the ether goes quiet.
The sound of a kitchen match strikes Paul’s ear.

Its ignition flares and then it lights a Marlboro.
The voice takes a long draw on the cigarette.
Paul wonders how he knows it is a Marlboro.

A faint glow now exists in the air above where he sits
on a rock among cedars in the Olympic Peninsula.
He decides the glow is the wrong color to be a firefly.

Between puffs the voice speaks about things he does not know.
While listening to the voice it goes from strange to familiar.
As it becomes familiar an image forms in Paul’s eyes.

The mid-thirties woman wears a cowboy hat and cowboy boots.
Her hands rough from labor. Her features plain and weather worn.
Her white western shirt wears dirt stains and grease spots.

Paul pinches himself to be sure he is not dreaming.
He scans the meadow for ruins reclaimed by the forest.
He spots nothing out of the ordinary.

He decides this visitation is like a wrong number.
It is a ten mile walk back to his car at the trailhead.
He rises and walks away.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

For The Time Being

My for the time being
is unlike other people’s.

A trumpet vine grows around it
and humming birds visit regularly.

Printed on it is a freshness date
and a lot number.

It carts around a wooden collection plate
for contributions to future conversation.

Sometimes I make the mistake
of offering an expired for the time being

and I spot our ghosts
at their hours and locations

as if looking through a keyhole
in the door of time.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Power Lines Downed By An Ice Storm

Night leaves holes in the sky.
Polkadot daylight.

Callous goat milk
leads a singing cat to slaughter.

Cows do not run around
like chickens with their heads cut off.

The eggshells Paul walks on
crack under his unbridled worry.

I stay up at night painting
word balloons for bleating sheep.

Paul trained the cock to crow
on the hour and carries it as his time piece.

When I see ghosts they are always people
not any of the animals I’ve butchered.

No matter how many barnyard cats live here
there are always plenty of mice.

I left the bible out and opened to random pages
hoping they would convert to church mice.

Paul stood up and danced after eating ice cream.
The brass section started up.

He planned his next confession
to be a musical number.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Happy Meal

Dora clanged
her pots and pans
to wake the city
to the ghosts
freed from
their fleshy shells
by fast food
and sugary treats
but only managed
to annoy
the two occupants
of a fishing boat
riding the tide
for the outer banks
as the sun’s
bald head
first breached
the horizon
and everyone else
was too hungover
from New Year’s
solitary celebrations
to respond
to an alarm
about their
pandemic comforts.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney