Lanky Steps Trod

The street preacher who walked up to Paul and Lori
calmly told them to keep burning.

He missed giving the benediction at funeral masses.
He loved to speak in latin to lay people.

When there were no folks on the block to save
he sat and watched birds like flying farolitos at night.

He rejected all of the feminine questions.
He dismissed those he thought followed the cult of Mary.

He debated aloud with the voice in his head.
Occasionally he recited dreams verbatim.

Whenever he saw white collars his face drooped in sadness.
Whenever geese swam the city fountain his face lifted in joy.

He was an effective detour of gang-bangers.
They feared his glory might be contagious.

One day he critiqued maestro Leonardo’s Last Supper
while pointing at the window table in the cafe across the street.

He embraced his loneliness and solitary visions
confident there were people to save from monotony.

He removed garlands of unmet expectations from shoulders.
He implored passersby to expose their secrets.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Bleak

Paul asked the United States
Fish and Wildlife Service
to place him on
the endangered species list.

Especially this pandemic winter
when loneliness
feels six feet under
the bared desert expanses.

He adopted a white linen
pillow case of surrender
but no enemy appeared
to intern him in a crowded camp.

The oblique sunlight
shies from touching his body.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Thin Stacks

Paul attempted to sort
the different kinds of loneliness

and place precise titles
on each category

but he failed since no two lonelinesses
seemed the same

even though they all involved
an inability to be alone

without feeling loss
and separation

and each was so defined
by the user’s actions

and locations
that they remained separate

with unaccompanied definitions
in piles of one.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Not A Fairy Tale

Paul wrote a love story.
It was a hate story too.

Overall on the imagined scales of justice
love outweighed hate a hundred to one.

The problem was a linear story
weighs things at different times.

There was a plot point two-thirds of the way
through the story

that hate in the fictional wife’s mind
tipped the scale against her husband

on the day she learned
he had an affair with her sister.

Although both Leviticus and Deuteronomy
prescribe death for adulterers

the wife chose leaving
the house that was not a home anymore—

to not be a wife anymore
and to find another hand to hold her hand.

Being in her thirties she was not afraid
of dying of loneliness.

She packed her few things and left
on a great American road trip.

She discovered in her third hotel room
that she did not miss

the sound of manly feet on the floor at night
or picking up his socks from around the house.

The day she was in Taos New Mexico
she saw a triple rainbow against the mountains.

She declared it a sign.
A new life fell into place as if waiting for her.

The man who once was her husband
married the woman who remained her sister.

She did not attend the wedding.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Answered

Walking down the wrong street
bullets called out your name
but none of them knew how to pronounce
the umlaut over the A
so their lead missed your body
but hit many other things
that shattered upon impact
or shattered the bullet upon its impact.

You were not oblivious
but more concerned about the stranger
who screamed out for a hug
while two dozen tiny moons circled their head
as a reckoning of how many lunar mouths passed
since they were last touched.

Believing they witnessed a miracle
the shooters scattered
not wishing to be in the proximity
of something so holy that God’s breath
saturated the neighborhood’s air
like the little puff from a kiss just let go.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

New Kind Of Distance

I climbed a hill on the only path I knew.
At the top I found many paths leading down.

There were sixteen directions I could take.
But to take one would mean abandoning the others.

I checked each after deciding
to choose the one path where I would meet someone.

Each path was empty of people
though all of them had many trees and plenty of birds.

During the next fifteen minutes
not a single animal crossed any of the trails.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
No mammals appeared in the hour.

My patients were rewarded
when a woman with wet hair up in a towel

sidled her wheelchair adjacent to my hip
without the axles making a squeak

or her heaving breath sounding other than
the leafy breeze on a sunny day.

I felt happy to not be alone at the top.
Words fell from both of us for a time

and clattered like stones to the ground
hitting our ears capped by the long pain of loneliness.

It was only then I realized how untouched
I had been for far too long.

The hill top lowered itself
like a city bus with hydraulics for the elderly to disembark.

She put away a self-retracting tape measure
that failed to hook any part of the altitude

to calculate our descent into entanglement
as the earth flattened our way home.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Loneliness

I do not know what I have done
and I do not suspect God will answer me
whether I am on my knees at the alter
or on a walk through the woods.

And what is worse is that each morning
I wake and look into the mirror
only to wonder whose eyes those are
that look back at me with such reproach.

There is a promise I have threatened to make
which, with twisted words, might mean
I will love my self, but, on some days
it is more a bargain just to see the sunset

and lay my head down again upon the pillow
in the slight knowledge that tomorrow might be better,
might be the day when my soul walks inside of me—
not two steps behind and one to the right.

Down at the river where the rusted railroad bridge
supports the many nests of swallows
I gamble with the dusk, with bread that draws
the ducks over to speak for me

to the God who must reside in the distorted sky
as it is reflected in the water below the bridge,
below the darting swallows, as a McDonalds’ cup
fails to snag on any of the river’s branches or rocks.

But no one speaks, except for that voice within my head,
the voice that says, You are ugly. You incompetent boob.
You … The list goes on and reciting it darkens the moon
as it rises above the trees, as the sun filters orange and red.

There is the offer of the bridge, of the bloated fish that float by,
of the river’s merciless current that lifts the dead and discarded
and carries them toward the sea—but the river with its flow
will not fill the emptiness, nor carry me back to God’s loving arms.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Place A Finger

I have worked hard
to feel something
that resides below
the rage and wreckage
of this pandemic year.

I know what it means
to wake each morning
and wonder if today
my luck runs out
in a madcap state
in a war of wills
amid the discarding
of the concept
the public good.

So few today believe
they owe our country
for our decades of peace
and prosperity—
except in war.

As the air grows cold
and flurries fall
every sneeze and cough
sends minor tremors
through my spine
and worries me
until my breath clears.

The isolation
creates an aloneness,
which is different
than loneliness.
This solitude
has spawned
an unfamiliar
feeling for which
I reach about
for a name.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney