Gratitude and Relief

Before you ….
I do not like to think about that time.

The lack of touch.
Spirit withdrawing into a protective shell.

It was a mix of intentional
and unintentional.

Frugal courage.
The emotional safety of a small life.

The joy of no expectations but my own.
Self-set boundaries.

But the death of sharing took a toll.
That was my only self-inflicted wound.

The other scars
explain why I lived this way for so long.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney


Trying to rewind his life
to last Thursday to a time ten minutes before
he said something stupid to Lori
which got her mad at him,
Paul walked backwards through the neighborhood.

The neighborhood sidewalks
were old and uneven.
His first stumble and fall
took place in front of their cafe—
the place where they first met.

He banged his head on the concrete.
Several bystanders helped him up
and gave him walking suggestions.
The best one was if he insists on walking backward
not to have his hands in his pockets.

Paul walked backward into Sarti’s Bar
which was full of happy hour people
busy with happy hour drinking.
He bumped into a bus-woman clearing tables
and sent empties spinning across the floor.

The merriment of the bar flowed around him
like he was a stone moving through a stationary stream.
The metaphor was backward enough to tickle his fancy.
His laughter joined the merriment of the joint.
He took a barstool and ordered a pint.

With his back to the silent TV he cheered
when others cheered the Broncos football play.
Neil Young’s Heart of Gold played on the old jukebox.
Lori walked forward into Sarti’s.
Because he was not facing the television Paul saw her arrive.

Lori walked forward to the bar next to him
squeezed between two occupied barstools
and ordered a pint. He apologized.
She accepted the apology and commented
that Mary called her to get down here when he entered backwards.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney


In the blue TV screen light
eyes a dull memory’s reflection
Paul vacates the love seat for the floor.
In the background he hears
Lori move about the kitchen.

The digital clock changing numbers
wakes him from a pale and leathery vision—
an old sin under the sleeve like a time-bled tattoo.
A Tide commercial advertises a new clean.
Someone speaks about Jesus and salvation.

Lori places the last dish in the cabinet.
The towel drapes the oven handle.
Barefoot she crosses the tile printed to look like wood.
She sits in the love seat.
Her knees next to Paul’s head.

Lori says she read the obituaries this morning.
Found no entry for the moths on the windowsill.
No one they knew made it into print.
She picks up the remote and changes channel
to a story about a Franklin stove washing up on Gilligan’s Island.

She separates her knees enough to pat the love seat’s leather.
Paul slides over and feels her hands touch his shoulders.
She rubs worry from between his shoulder blades.
It feels to him like she finds wings and pulls them out
to remind him of soaring.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Allowing Good Things to Happen

Paul closed his eyes and walked on water.
He walked on the sandy bottom.

His belief in denial was not strong enough.
Gravity applied itself.

Paul did not seek to appropriate a miracle.
He sought to replicate Christ’s love.

He discounted his gentle rejection of Christianity
as a cause for his failure.

That religious dismissal did not prevent
the spiritual manifestation of grace.

Maybe the bestowed blessings
assumed a different form than imitation.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Taos Ski Valley

Paul remembered his first kiss.
It was their fifth date.

He did not know they were dating.
He did not see the kiss coming.

It happened in the afternoon.
In the aspens on a familiar trail.

Paul noticed she behaved oddly that day.
On that walk to Williams Lake.

He expected a difficult story
that he was to listen to and not problem solve.

Then the wonder of the kiss under the aspen glow.
The first that became the first of many.

They held hands all the way back
walking on air to the trailhead.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Work or Pleasure

The past stared out of Lori’s mirror.
Her eyes absorbed the past’s reflection.
She mistakenly thought PU the mirror image of UP.

She felt the pull of the past
as if it was a river slowly tugging on her—
a broken tree limb with leaves dangling into the water.

In this pulling, she located a song.
Lori sang of longing.
Aloud. To no one.

She sang the river cutting a gorge
through the landscape—
a deep escarpment without crossing.

The alphabet of hope resided on the far side.
A speed ramp for a running-jump attempt on her side.
She stood barefoot in the center of a prickly pear patch.

The song faltered like lemon squeezed in her mouth.
Her veins blued closer to the skin.
She released a held breath.

She examined the skin of her cheeks, below her eyes.
The endless washing seemed a disaster.
Suddenly she was not sure which twilight colored the window.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Language Experiences Brief Seasons of Breath

The temperature expresses
the frame of emotion.

We the listeners
react like flower buds—

expanding, contracting
rotating trying to find the sun.

Yesterday I sheltered myself
from your frosty suffering.

Today your requisite need
for affection

consumes all the oxygen
in your proximity.

You regularly place
obstacles between us

(like the dining table longways)
to maintain distance.

That suggests something
unraveled your tether to love.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney


It appears to the naked eye
that all religions are self defeating.

Loving people is as painful
as the doctor’s stinging slap

across a baby’s bottom
so the child breathes, thus lives.

I never prayed in church
because there was too much static.

Prayer is an act of listening
not asking to be delivered from pain.

I listened to the pain love caused
and determined a path forward.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

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

You and I

We never counted the hummingbirds
that visited our feeder.

I was the one who jumped to touch clouds
but fell short on every try.

You were the one who barreled rainwater
for the bee balm and butterfly bushes.

We hiked every mapped trail in the foothills
and many that were unmapped.

I was the one who spotted birds first
even though you were the birder.

You were the one who moved quicker and faster
even though my legs were eight inches longer.

We shared water from a canteen slung across my back—
a replica wooden civil war canteen with cork stopper.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney