Anguish of Unmet Expectations

Dora labors to turn newspaper pages.
Not aging. Or illness.

It is the news
that weighs upon her hand and arm.

Without the benefit of building muscle
as she turns through politics to sports.

Even when she listens to podcasts
they so often fill the air with heavy words

that the weight carried in implications and portents
settles deep in her lungs

and clogs her ears with depressed speculation
and what ifs.

It is as if our American society is an organism
about to self divide to form two.

Such is the movement away from union.
Pushed by lies like a century and a half ago.

Different lies, but lies all the same.
And passions lit like bonfires

with effigies of the opposition
and dirty tricks turned in the cast shadows.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Bounty

Paul traces
his genetic ancestors
back to Maryland
the Eastern Shore
a grand house of slave owners
and halts the historic search
at the shores of the Atlantic
not wishing to know
what atrocious portion
of feudal England
taught them
this historic violence.

He would not be welcome
in that house.

He may have met a young
Frederick Douglas.

He wonders if their faces
would look familiar to his mirror
or if their privileged countenance
would cause them to appear as strangers.

He checks himself.
His own barely acknowledged privilege
in these days of John Floyd
and Black Lives Matter.

He plans to go there one day
once the Eastern Shore pandemic
is safely in the history books
so he may stand on that land
and see how it bore up
to the unchristian mistreatment
of the people who harvested the fields
and carried milk to table
but were not allow to share
in the bounty.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Autumn Stroll

Paul and I walked
Antietam’s sunken road
away from
the observation tower
with me as guide
telling him about John Gordon’s
Alabama troops’ courage
and how the soil
turned a reddish brown.

A bus pulled into
the parking area
and released
fifty Chinese students
to read signs
and view the plowed fields
and split-rail fences.

Paul wondered aloud
what this place
meant to them
and how the fight
to free the slaves
and preserve the Union
reflected in China’s history.

We turned down
the road to the Roulette Farm
and a few students followed
mistaking my
recently re-read
The Gleam of Bayonets history
for the lecture
of an official battlefield guide.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

postscript

Antietam was a battle in the American Civil war. Link to the National Park Service webpage about the battle.

Revisionist

I was once sealed in a plastic bag
and floated across the sea.

My unintentional goal
was the Texas-sized pacific gyre.

The solitude I sought was not there
in the crowded whirl.

You said something to me once
that started this adventure.

This running away, really,
from your wild screaming.

Arms flailing like tentacles
about the trash and recycling

and the danger of chicken salad
left out on the counter too long.

And all I could think of in reply was
that June twenty-fifth

was the one hundred and seventh anniversary
of Gettysburg’s fiftieth anniversary.

You know. The celebration
where history was rewritten for the South.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Rolling Itself Into A Tight Ball

The way I
cupped the past
my hands began to tremble
and revealed everything
about this rusted bayonet.

As I ran my finger over its jagged triangle
the cruelty of its purpose
radiated into my experience
and a rare brain filament
lit through agitation.

A red flash of blood
on my lips dried
and I was loath
to allow a breath to escape
for fear of whose words
it might release.

The way I
cupped the past
blood of an unknown man,
a hundred and fifty-five years ago,
pulsed my stomach
and constricted
like his at the sundering impact.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney