Portraiture

My ability to determine
which secrets to keep
and which to expose
has something
to do with an oval
wooden frame
on the wall
that presents
cut locks of hair
from my ancestors.

Each lock is curled
like a nautilus spiral
above calligraphy script
that names the donor
and I hold the knowledge
that each lock
was taken from the head
as it rested in its casket
before public viewing
as was their custom.

In a box I possess
unmarked sepia photos
that are yellowed
at the card-stock edges
and I play a game
where I try to match
photo to name
by their hair.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Keepsake

The jacket in the attic, the cedar chest,
on top of dilapidated shoes
displays a hole with blood stains
that match up with
a once white, weather stained shirt.

Butternut—a gray dye faded from the sun
over the many marched miles.
No kepi with sky blue stripe.
Great grandfather’s unit
wore straw hats that summer, not pressed felt.

No old photo for frame or locket.
They were much too poor.
The rich man’s tool in war
with no slaves to lose.
Forty acres of bottom land to support seven.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Elevation

Do not ask me to consider
raising my mother to the level of saint.

I am sure there were significant amounts
of martyrdom, being an early twentieth century woman.

But I have no desire to open
my grave memories of her

for you and others to claim finger bones
or locks of hair for your reliquaries.

Why aren’t your coming of age memories of my mother
enough to maintain her in your mindfulness?

Why do you not understand how Richard’s death
and her miscarriages affected her?

The earth can absorb her full history.
The salt of her humanity rise in trees.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

postscript

My mother passed away in 2001. I remember the funeral and the greeting line post funeral. Over three hundred people attended. Many, maybe most, were women who my mother had mentored through Girl Scouts. There experience of her was very different than mine. I remember the gush of their praise of her to me.

My mother’s ashes were spread among the trees at a Girl Scout camp that she attended each year as a leader.