Why I Have A List Of Favorite Rest Stops

Sadness persists in me.
Like it is an uncharted organ.

Bicycling does much to diminish it.
Photo albums tend to intensify it.

Blueberries on my morning yogurt
signify I have a taste for blueberries.

There are days sadness
pulls me deeper inside myself.

Other days it pushes me
outside my skin.

Drinking shrinks it briefly
then expands it to galactic dimensions.

As sad experiences add up
I do my best to relabel them neutrally.

There is something about driving long distances
that vibrates sadness out of my pores

to steadily drip on the pavement
of the interstate highways I traverse.

I once tried the nomad lifestyle
because of this fact

but ran out of novel roads to drive
at Neah Bay with a view of Waadah Island.

I threw nine amens and hale-Mary’d
my St. Christopher medallion into the ocean

where the Strait of Juan de Fuca meets the sea
trusting that would pacify my sadness.

It did not. My sadness suggested
we head back to Albuquerque

and the surrounding desert
since the green chile harvest started that week.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Streets

Wrapped in rags
Paul survives a late freeze.

He washes in fountain water.
Air dries.

He spends half the day
measuring sunlight

and the heat it leaves behind
in body and stone.

Paul knows everything breaks.
He mends his brokenness.

He knows every break opens him
to reveal what is inside.

But only if he looks deeply
without lying to himself.

He wonders if he is chaff
being winnowed out of society.

Society’s kernels are unaware
he is about to grind them into flour.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

House And Home

My body battered by my mind
trembles in place.

My blood hollows itself
blueing under oxygen debt.

Knights joust upon my tongue.
A soggy pink field torn to pieces by mad charges.

Love is a word I do not speak to myself.
It is an abstract others speak of solidly.

It has something to do with the difference
of the words House and Home.

My body houses what God’s mouth
breathed into me.

But this flesh does not feel like home
for all my consumed communion wafers.

In this state I tell myself
this night I feel the holy dark about me

and the floor’s broken glass is fear
not a bottle dropped

after liquid numbness fails
to add color back to old photos.

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

Dominant Wavelength

The woman who kicks and screams
on the carpeted floor of the group room
knows she won’t make it,
anytime soon, away from that place
in the barn where she hides
the straight edge razor
that cuts the even rows in her thigh.

The paint she spreads on canvas
never looks like anything identifiable
from nature, but something abstract,
from the deeper parts of nurture,
with black lines—that appear to be
from a child’s coloring book
or a church’s stained glass windows—
that depict the stories of unnamed saints
and frame nothing she can put a name to.

There are one-hundred and three scars
in her flesh that attempt to represent
what is repressed and somehow
might be fixed, like the blue she says
is wrong, not of itself, but in the upper right
of her latest canvas—the blue that is too dark
but has dried and refuses to mix
with white for a lighter shade.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Leafy Piece Of An Unraked Yard

The man down the block
with the dirty-minded wife
barbecued peaches
to help her fulfill some fantasy
with smoky pits.

He injured his back twice this year
translating her fantasies into reality
for what he believes is both
for mental health
and an expression of love.

None of his efforts involved
landscaping, manicuring the lawn
or cutting down a tree
with a double headed axe.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Hundred Hues

The world reassembled itself.
It had not really fallen apart.
Bethany’s perception of it fractured
in the glint of the storage unit’s
razor wire.

Only a guest in the hidden chapel,
the light through the stained glass
worked better for her
than Christ upon the cross
with his decorative piercings.

Bethany sharpened her sense
of broken-down-in-urban-America
so the pieces fit properly.
No light shined through rough edges.
No cold winds pressed bare skin.

She relaxed into herself
as if lying on a pile of raked leaves
with the smoke of other piles
thick in the air before cities
banned such fiery rehearsals.

Bethany heard the song of the world
and how flat and out of rhythm
her life-notes were within it.
And the counter melody
of the long scars upon her body—

her repeated dash in the buff
through a thorn bush thicket
thinking she could embody
the Christ’s thorny crown
under the watchful eyes of owls.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Suddenly

Bethany awoke
naked and confused
as a morning shower
dotted her skin
in a breezeless field
of lavender rows.

She sat up
and spotted
her dropped cloths
leading back
to the two-lane
highway—
the only way
in or out
of the peninsula.

She remembered
walking away
from a rumor-filled
harbor town
where pedestrian eyes
drilled holes in her spine
and the neighbor
who poisoned her dog.

A golden retriever
bounded
down the heavily
scented rows
to investigate her,
bowled her over
back onto the dirt
and planted
dog kisses
upon her
tight-lipped face.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Fifty Six Degrees

You cannot trust Bethany
to tell the truth
about her past trauma.

She has thirty years of practice
preventing these memories
from breaking through

to disrupt her day
filled with shopping, laundry
and three kids.

But the trauma ferments
in the dark of ceiled oaken casks
deep in the mind’s cellar.

With no vent set in the wood
to release the carbon dioxide
the barrel hoops strain

to keep the staves in place.
A sour smell occupies
Bethany’s nose.

That is what she says
in halts and stops
to our semicircle of faces.

And we know this too.
This aging darkness tucked away
under vaulted ceilings.

Cask after cask
awaiting the steward to tap
the wood

or for an explosion
that shatters the barrel staves
and twists and mangles the hoops.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Mechanism

I restrain
the most difficult emotions
in a holding cell
until circumstances change
and I check
for bodily injuries
to determine
if drawn blood
changes equations.

Later I release
compressed feelings
and view them
like a newsreel
before allowing them
to engage
with my body.

Even then
I may overestimate
my capacity to handle
concepts and prejudices
desires in conflict with reality
and crumble to the ground
as my knees buckle
from the tremors.

While on the floor
I search for any word
to load into oration’s shotgun
so I might return fire
even if my words hit only
the ghost of my interactions.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney