Happy Meal

Dora clanged
her pots and pans
to wake the city
to the ghosts
freed from
their fleshy shells
by fast food
and sugary treats
but only managed
to annoy
the two occupants
of a fishing boat
riding the tide
for the outer banks
as the sun’s
bald head
first breached
the horizon
and everyone else
was too hungover
from New Year’s
solitary celebrations
to respond
to an alarm
about their
pandemic comforts.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Succumbing

In a wheelchair
at a rural intersection
with the only traffic light for miles
sits a battered Teddy Bear
propping up a cardboard sign:
Homeless War Vet.

Under the shade of trees
a man with prosthetic legs
appears to snooze
through the awfulness
after twenty-eight straight days
without a bed or shower.

The sycamore trees,
old as the Civil War,
mark a property boundary
in the county land records
that go back
to nineteen-eighteen
when his great grandfather
purchased the farm
from the bank
after its owners,
with no successors,
died of the influenza.

With no traffic
at the red light
children bound
out of a solitary car
with less than
one dollar in change
for the Teddy Bear.
But that does not
fill his vest pocket
or the income gap
during the pandemic.

So history repeats itself.
Obliquely.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Place A Finger

I have worked hard
to feel something
that resides below
the rage and wreckage
of this pandemic year.

I know what it means
to wake each morning
and wonder if today
my luck runs out
in a madcap state
in a war of wills
amid the discarding
of the concept
the public good.

So few today believe
they owe our country
for our decades of peace
and prosperity—
except in war.

As the air grows cold
and flurries fall
every sneeze and cough
sends minor tremors
through my spine
and worries me
until my breath clears.

The isolation
creates an aloneness,
which is different
than loneliness.
This solitude
has spawned
an unfamiliar
feeling for which
I reach about
for a name.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

The Dead Extending Outward

Paul and Dora
ended up tallying
all the people
lost to the pandemic
and trying to
remember each
and every face.

As an exercise
they attempted
to list them
alphabetically
and then by height
so that
different indexing
might catch a few
they missed
before.

Dora decided
on a community
Christmas project
where one farolito
would be placed
for each passed soul
and no dickering
over heart complications
or diabetes
disqualifying someone
from the count.

Paul suggested
they use a
black Sharpie
to write one name
per brown bag
in the manner
of the Vietnam Memorial
on the National Mall,
but in order
by date of death.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

How We Bend

A dozen drops
dot the window.
A low yield cloud.
A dark teasing.
Mocking thunder.
Skull echo chamber.
Wine glass on the table
reverberates,
moves millimeters.

The phone rings once.
Election season.
Poling questions.
Unexpressed selections.
Seven weeks out.
Weight of lies.
Hands ready to blacken
little ovals.

My pandemic face hides loss.
A count to three.
Remorse springs
from long silences.
The dead might as well
have been disappeared
by the Administration.
Hands rough
from washing.
The grocery’s spare shelves.
My dog does not
recognize me
in my black mask.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Shelter Receives No One After Five

We stood outside
the First Church of Christ.

It was one of six by that name
in the city.

We wanted sanctuary.
Our pandemic eviction was complete.

No one was home in the church
after dark—tale end of twilight, really.

Our boys and girls
played ring around the rosary—

a game they just made up
while clicking their tongues.

One of the boys argued this building
was the house of God

and God should let us in
to stay dry from the approaching storm.

One of our girls argued
God dwells in Heaven with the angels

and Heaven is in outer space.
She could not name the nearest star.

When the rain started,
one of our girls suggested

Fairies should kidnap all the children
away from us.

The youngest boy started crying.
He suffers from night terrors

and the night closed in
all around him, claws exposed.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Expansion

Thank you for wearing a face mask
as you look from the outside through the window to see me.

Thank you for the lines at the edge of your eyes
that tell the nature of your smile.

Thank you for walking my three-legged dog
while I am blighted.

Thank you for painting mountains on the window
knowing how much it heartens me to see them.

Thank you for your personal appearance
even though you could FaceTime from home.

Thank you for holding up an unrolled yard of sod
so I could be refreshed by green grass.

Thank you for playing bird songs during our conversations
so I could feel my backyard in this hospital room.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Awfulness Of Waiting

I helped Paul rearrange eggs in a carton.
This is important when your friend is intubated.
The lack of effectual power caused this shift.
Endlessly rearranging the mundane does not create immunity.
But it occupies the mind between Zoom visits.
The pain of waiting for good news makes reading impossible.
Paul searches for balance and finds it for an hour or two.
The house is cleaner than it has ever been.
Even the spots that require tip-toes and extension wands.
There is no herculean effort to view under the plastic hood.
Induced coma and tubes equal a wing and a prayer.
Paul takes his time in every task.
He feels detached like an unmatched sock.
He streams war movies aiming to carpet bomb his malaise.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Sorted By Author

I went to the foothills to get away from people.
People found and surrounded me.

All those folks attempted
to burn off pandemic stress,

political election year stress,
spare-tire-accumulating stress.

I sought solitude.
I sought thrashers and cactus wrens.

Why was I the one who yielded the trail
to unmasked walkers, joggers, and mountain bikers?

Away is now a half mile farther from home
than it once was,

with the national parks and monuments
closed to the public,

with bookstores closed
and no chance to peruse the stacks.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Protesters Silently Walked By

God hung out
on the empty streets
of a pandemic city
curbside, by a brewpub
no longer hosting
poetry on Monday nights.

God scrounged
the sidewalk
for dropped words
and sentence fragments
to wrap in Zig-Zags
and light up.

God wore a red cap
with a grey wolf logo
and searched
the sad eyes
of homeless girls
who shared
the trafficked fate
of poverty.

God watched
the protesters
employ their right
to peaceful assembly
and march,
letting their homemade signs
give voice
to their outrage
and collective
sense of humanity.

God missed
the clickity-clack
of the skateboard
sidewalk surfers
on their way
through downtown,
who saved
sofa cushion findings
to purchase
Thrasher Tees
or new aluminum
trucks.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney