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

There Now

Twenty-seven years gone
but my dog is young again
riding shotgun in the car
with her nose pressed
to the crack in the window.

Speed generated wind
brings her a thousand stories
as the great plains
rise gently toward the Rockies
and the forest trails we once walked.

For old times sake
I pull off the highway
for a quarter pounder
and buy her a cheeseburger
that she’ll consume in one bite.

Eventually I park the car
at a trailhead on the Spanish Peaks.
Even her golden ghost refuses
to jump out the open door and walk
the trail up to where the thunder gods hangout.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

She Lies Absent

Paul triangulates
the girl of his dreams
to be in the shadow
of a witness sycamore
on the opposite side
of a creek run red.

She wears a dress
the color of turned sycamore leaves
and holds purple prairie aster
that competes
with the last of the dandelions
for the bees’ attention.

He must cross a bridge
made of aged white stone
against a rush of ghosts
groaning and wailing
amid the thunderous canon
and volleys hurled against them.

Upon seeing the color bearer drop
and old glory fall
the woman raises her arm to her brow,
in the manner of Victorian women,
slumps to the ground,
and disappears beneath the leaves.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


Lori choked
on the devil.
He dressed himself
in yellow mustard,
egg yoke and paprika.
She prefers him
in snake form
wrapped around
a tree limb
offering temptation
in the guise
of forbidden
about the trauma
of therapists’
rag doll demonstrations—
snow white ghosts
too many years
in closets scared
by the vast salt flats
expanding away
from the doorframe
under a sky
of circling vultures
knowing Los Alamos
is up to something,
but not what
when they call
on the Trinity.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney

Traffic Rumbles In The Background

A thrasher knocks a bumble bee out of the air
and duels with it until the bee is dead and eaten.

The grizzled Russian men play chess
and grumble about their stale fortune cookies.

Someone’s young daughter places an origami crane
on a stray dog’s nose.

A bus lowers itself with a great whoosh
to ease sidewalk access for the elderly with canes & walkers.

A yiddish accent recounts her loss for words
when she first saw the Grand Canyon from Bright Angel Lodge.

Two navy officers talk about a war
three hundred years in the history books.

On my park bench, I wait for my father to come along.
He is twenty-seven years in the grave.

Punctual as always, his ghost arrives.
We chat corn futures and the trade war’s effects on farms.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney