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

Recognition

Paul’s memory fell out
leaving a hollow space
for squirrels to nest in
like a tree trunk.

Each night he was reintroduced
to the Milky Way.

Each day the sunrise
surprised him.

When he looked at me
I saw his mind race and whirl
through sleeping squirrels
trying to find and form my name.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Voice I No Longer Remember

Practice spirit speech.
Wander through night doors.

Salt food with sweat.
Rise at first light.

Place a hand on a friend’s shoulder.
Walk invisibly through forests.

Inhale wet leaf aroma.
Tread paths with no destination.

Accept advice from songbirds.
Give foolishness a home.

Define success for yourself.
Overwrite old memories.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Judgement

Sin arrived as a ripple of change
emanating from a story of loss.

Memory made it original
and entirely of self.

Creator made it not at all
but made the change possible.

A spell written in sand
removed by the lapping tide.

A spell as in time.
A time lived consciously.

A beautiful disconnection.
Not disappearance.

But not loss either.
Not sin.

A scattering of reflections
like sunlight scattered off cut crystal.

Off descending water droplets
that form rainbows.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Gnostics Have These Answers

Why do second-hands sweep?
Time is no cleaner for all their effort.

In which case I am glad they do not sweep up memory
so I recognize my beloved when I see her.

The night fills with dark.
But it is the absence of light that makes it so.

Not that the light is absent.
It is blocked by the earth’s rotation.

Like when my beloved turns her face from mine
and I cannot see her smile.

When I am at a loss for words
I have plenty of words at hand ready for use.

But all those words seem to be
the wrong thing to say under the circumstance.

Why are my words at hand?
It is not like I ramrod them in my mouth

like the barrel of a muzzleloading musket
before firing away.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Retention

I remember my brother’s coffin
before it was lowered into the ground.

He was cremated.
His ashes placed under a maple sapling we planted.

Someone took scissors to my memory.
They collaged over one with another.

Maybe this dual remembrance is a casualty
of too many concussions.

I suffered three big ones over the years.
Maybe those residual blows dig holes in my brain.

Maybe grief of a lost loved one
digs a hole in the brain as well as the ground.

I feel your fingers filling the holes
like my brain is a bowling ball.

No. That was water filling the hole
with seasonal freeze and thaw cycles.

It is a long time extracting tears
from eyes told Big boys don’t cry.

I was not big at the time of my brother’s death.
But I was told that axiom anyhow.

Maybe those tears are the waters
that filled the brain holes.

Maybe my memories were printed
with water soluble ink

and bled into other memories
which explains my eating potato salad

at my brother’s grave side
in the shade of a maple grown tall.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Always More

The untidy memory clings
to my eyelashes—
a smoke that never
brings me to tears
but always keeps them on edge.

I straddled a canyon once
thinking that the best way
to scrape the arid sky
to add to my color palette
with a little linseed oil.

Never more than a flash
that memory
is something I feel
like my blistered hand
soaking in pickle brine.

All of it dances beautifully
around the question
Do you love me?
and the answer piñata high
hit with an ash bat.

Some days I choose to get lost
in a deep bottle of Claret.
While other days I take the option
of cleaning the horse barn—
mice escaping the shifting debris.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Suspicious

When Paul first woke
he was pretty sure he only dreamed he woke.

He realized he truly woke
by rolling over and looking out the window.

The thrashers fed their young in the nest.
He rolled back over to face his girlfriend.

Her side of the bed was empty.
Paul realized he had no one left to support.

His memories of that wretched moment
told three totally different stories.

The back of his mind stated all of them were sick lies.
Paul sat up and his head swirled.

He looked out the window
to a vacant spot in the driveway.

There was a map he needs in the glove compartment!
But there was a rip in the driveway where the car should be.

So the car needed mending.
Or was it his memory of the car that needed mending.

In the bathroom mirror a bandage covered his forehead.
Removing it revealed a long gash and seventeen stitches.

A false nurse appeared by his bed.
A real nurse appeared in his false room.

The thrashers were gone.
A glaring light daggered his brain.

Paul reclined in the bed and returned to sleep,
so he might wake from a different dream.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Method To This Madness

Once the year concludes
I will be as different as jellybeans
from jellyfish.

I am happy when a day ends.
I will never relive it.
Not even in summer reruns.

I swept up all the wasted time,
but there was not enough
to create even a single dust bunny.

My mind let out a ball of string
so I could follow my thoughts
through its decision-making process.

My mind dropped the ball of string
in the middle of a dark forest
where wisps of fog impersonated ghosts.

Now I have misplaced my glasses.
How will I follow my breadcrumbs?
No. Wait. I have a string to rewrap into a ball.

What if the dark forest is where
memories go to be forgotten
or eaten by bark beetles and termites?

I guess forgetting myself
is the first step in changing who I am
and wiping the slate clean

in order to write a new story line
where the numbers add up
and I clearly remember what I experienced.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Bearing

I think about leaving.
as I sit against a witness tree.
It is all about staying.
It is all about this beloved earth.

I sing time into a fog.
I feel memory unwrap from my being.
As I waft away from gravity
I know memory is the tether that holds me here.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney