A stranger’s smile
is best
because it implies
no conflict
and a willingness
to be reasonable
with the possibility
of new friendship.

Unless the smile
appears to be
a cat’s smile
and I feel
long whiskers grow
on my face
and my spine
into a mouse’s tail.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney


A girl who walked away
from the psych ward
sat next to me at my cafe.
Her white ID bracelet
clued me to her name.
Sam in quotation marks.
She sat stone quiet for twenty minutes.
She drank from a paper cup.
Water with four sugars.
She chewed on a stir stick.
Sam turned toward me.
Hold up your hands in a triangle
and face the sun with your eyes closed.
You will see two eggs move like sperm
and penetrate the triangle.

Do it, she softly requested.
Do it, she repeated with undertow urgency.
Before I complied, Sam got up
and walked to another table.
She cornered herself
as far from the cafe entrance as possible.
A woman in black scrubs
with hospital ID tag on her breast pocket
walked purposefully toward her.
Hello sweetie. It’s time to go back.
No, said Sam. I wait for a friend.
What is the friend’s name, sweetie?
Sam’s thousand yard stare glazed the sun
streaked window an employee cleaned.
Three more nurse types in blue scrubs
entered the cafe and beelined to Sam.
Out numbered she surrendered,
They guided her out as quietly as she had sat.

When Sam first started talking to me
I did not recognize my opportunity
to introduce myself,
so her summons for friendship
would have had a name
she could carry back to the ward.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


This poem is 85% true and 15% poetic license. On 13 September while I sat at the counter of my favorite cafe writing poems, a young woman sat down next to me with the paper cup, wearing street clothes and the hospital wrist band. She was very quite for twenty minutes and seemed withdrawn into her own thoughts. Since I never learned her name, I made a name up for the poem.

The real life scene played out much as it does in the poem. The part about forming hands into a triangle and staring at the sun was quite important to her. I had just made the triangle shape she showed me, when she got up and moved to the farthest corner of the cafe. The nurse in black scrubs entered the cafe shortly thereafter and bee-lined to the girl.

I do not know if depression and life trauma affect a greater percentage of the country today than in the past. Even with all of our modern stresses I find it hard to believe today is more stressful than living through the Great Depression or the Spanish Influenza/WWI years. I think in modern times it is more accepted by society to reveal depression and trauma and to openly seek help.

Live with good mental health today (one day at a time).

Love & Light