Buddhist At An Adjacent Table

A monk brushes crumbs from her robes.
Banana nut muffin crumbs.
Tolling church bell crumbs.
Meditation crumbs.

A keyhole glows above her heart.
A piano tune emanates
from behind that door.
Joplin’s Ragtime.

The music reveals odd numbers.
Prime numbers really.
Granddaughter of a code-talker.
Navajo Buddhist juxtaposed.

Her saffron robes turn terra cotta.
An extemporaneous essay on kinships.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


New Mexico is a marvelous place for encountering religions. There are so many that have established themselves in the state. The encounters I have enjoyed most are those with Buddhists and Sufi. It seems our abundance of land, low population density and easy going life style attracts the groups.

Catholicism is the largest of all the practiced religions in NM. I am pleased the cruel practices of that faith are in the past. Of all faiths really.

I think it good that all religions are represented in close proximity. They should search for commonality so there is less religious based strife in the world.


The Americans lined up the Navajo,
one hundred and twenty-three in all, and shot them.

There was no trench made for burial.
The crows and coyotes feasted that afternoon and night.

The Navajo did not rise up.
The songs of their distant loved ones were not so strong.

The Navajo dead lingered and watch the crows and coyotes
disperse their earthly substance.

The one who survived, rose the next morning
and walked the meandering arroyo to my home.

With visible red wounds,
she stood on my doorstep and related her story

so it would become my story as well
whether I joined the story with courage or cowardice.

After tending to her wounds and thirst
we walked the wide dry land blown clean of foot prints.

The gravity of the event drew us straight to the site.
We arrived at the end of the day when all was near shadow.

Nature cleared all signs of the massacre.
Then again, we saw in two lights.

A tree rooted in sorrow grew at the edge of the arroyo.
Its bark was the color of bone. Its roots exposed.

The tree’s leaves sparkled like stars.
There were one hundred and twenty-two.

The woman found a hollow bone with holes pecked by crows.
She picked up the bone and played it as a flute.

She blended into the shadows, the tree roots and the arroyo.
Water sprang from the sandy soil and flowed toward the sea.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


One of my pleasures in writing is creating myth or mythic images. The first draft of this poem arrived about a month ago. I had recently finished reading Blood and Thunder, by Hampton Sides. The portions of the book dealing with the Navajo were fresh in my mind.

I know the myths I create will not be long remembered, because they (most likely) will not be adopted by an entire culture and form a basis of the culture, like the Norse myths did for the peoples of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. This does not stop me from writing them for the simple pleasure of the act.

Is it fair for me to add other cultures into my myth making? That is a question I ask myself from time to time. During the act of creating the piece, I do not think about it. The poem simply comes out. Because that seems to me a very organic process, I feel the other cultures incorporated into my writing are fair. I am aware others may (and do) disagree.

Love & Light



Paul wonders why there is no Navajo Barbie.
He rolls and smokes shredded pages of Leaves of Grass.
He snacks on corned beef straight from the can.
He gulps Yoo-hoo chocolate drink with a haiku scrawled
in black Sharpie on the pealed-label glass.

Paul wonders why people who are larger than life, look life-sized?
He leans against a downspout waiting for the spider.
He pulls dandelions to give to his girlfriend.
He decides to write a series of his own haiku that girdle the earth
at his current latitude in New Mexico.

Paul adds Albuquerque to his key chain.
He performs sleight of hand tricks
with the coins set on eyes to pay the ferryman.
He writes carols for Easter, Arbor Day and All Halo’s Day.
He gives a damn, a good goddamn, as a tip to the cafe barista.

For three days, Paul pulls the oars in Charon’s boat as a temp job.
He directs thirty-two dogs to be the new church choir.
He totes a burlap sack of prayers to the mountain top.
Twice a week, he lends his legs to a paraplegic Afghan war vet
so he may run his own errands.

Paul’s stomach growls winter grizzly bears into wakefulness.
His hunger is the Gospel of Judas jotted on a daisy-cutter.
He locates a king standing next to a sword-less stone.
He stuffs his pockets with the poems and promises
found along the roadside on his latest walkabout.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


When the cavalry came to fight the Navajo,
they did not fight the Navajo.
The cavalry fought their crop-fields and livestock.

Starvation is an uncivilized weapon
and should be against the Geneva Convention.
Or designate hunger as a weapon of terror.

Kit Carson’s treatment in history
depends on who writes the history,
apologies appear in print one-hundred and fifty years late.

Which historians attack Carlton, Dole, and Stanton?
We destroy the plan’s executioner posthumously,
not the absentee policy makers.

The Bosque Redondo death camp reservation,
ends with Sherman’s visit and dictation—
a solution by a white man named Tecumseh at birth.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


Wikipedia on the Navajo Wars. This poem deals with the part of the wars fought in the 1860s.

Wikipedia on Kit Carson.

Wikipedia on James Henry Carleton. Carlton believed very strongly in the Reservation system for Native Americans as a means to protect the Native Americans from white people, based on his experiences as a soldier in California. As often happens, his plans failed.

There is no Wikipedia entry on William P. Dole who was the head of the Commissioners of Indian Affairs under President Lincoln.

Wikipedia on Edwin McMasters Stanton.

Wikipedia on William Tecumseh Sherman. He was known as Cump to his friends.

Wikipedia on Bosque Redondo / Fort Sumner.

This poem came out of my reading Blood and Thunder, by Hampton Sides. The book is the story of Kit Carson and the conquest of the American West that Carson was involved with. I wrote this poem about the time I finished reading the book which was in early March.

Love & Light