Fields Of Antietam

A road runs through the fields of Antietam.
The living have not forgotten the dead.
The dead are part of the land now.
Part of the corn in the fields.
Part of the scrub and woodlots.

I walk the road where Rufus Dawes once walked.
I walk to a fence that lines the road.
This modern fence is a recreation of the fence
Rufus Dawes once stood at.
I look at the fence on the other side of the narrow road.
Rufus Dawes once looked in this direction too.
His vision was blocked by a black powder haze.
Hundreds of men fired muskets at each other
across the fourteen feet that separated the two fences.
The longest twenty minutes a man ever endured.

I walk the road through the fields of Antietam.
The white painted Dunker Church is upon my right.
It is now part of the National Military Park.
It is not used for the worship of any God.

People come to visit the ground by the Dunker Church.
They tell me the dead of Antietam made it holy.
But ground is holy for being ground.
Our dead do not make it more or less holy
than the falling leaves from the witness oaks and sycamores.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


Rufus Dawes, at the time of Antietam, was the Lt. Colonel of the 6th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment which belonged to the famed Iron Brigade of the West (sometimes called the Black Hat Brigade due to their distinctive black Hardee style hats).

After the war, Dawes visited all the battlefields he fought upon, but could not find it in him to return to Antietam due to the memories of the fierceness of the close proximity fighting.


Each of us maps out
our tragic sorrows
we retell over and over
then files a claim
with the local magistrate
as if inviting friends
to an outdoor picnic
to barbecue
a prizewinning memory
and consume it
like the holy host
only to see it reshape
its dragon form
in the brain’s storage bin
after a deep sleep.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


Paul’s mind slipped.
It fell backwards and landed hard on the ground.
Fortunately it missed the rake under the fallen leaves.

Paul looked around a bit disoriented.
He spotted his mind on the ground.
He gave it a hand up.

Dazed, Paul’s mind started to walk off.
Paul followed after it.
He could not close the gap.

His mind retreated into a coffee shop.
A pleasant coincidence since he was headed
to that same coffee shop. His mind ordered coffee. Black.

He ordered a vanilla flavored Italian soda.
They looked around at all the young people in the coffee shop.
The young paid them no heed.

Paul’s mind wondered if heed replaced dollars for currency.
Paul reached over and pulled his mind across the table,
knocking over the cup of coffee.

Although it happened quite quickly,
the stuffing of Paul’s mind back into his head
seemed painfully slow.

Paul looked at the busboy with the mop.
Paul knew he knew the lad,
but could not think of his name.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney

Urban Hollow

The girl making herself invisible
against the interior wall
wears a body language
that says I take up too much space
and if you join me
we will take up much too much space

Her hands tucked behind her back
pull her body into the wall.
She is half way into the wiring.

The inexplicable physics
of this passing through flowered wallpaper
without bruising a single bloom
confounds Paul.

He smiles and waves.

This accelerates the process
as her legs push against the floor
so the remainder of her torso
passes the drywall, framing and nails.

Paul walks quickly to the door
and outside to a point
opposite where she was inside
with the expectation of seeing her
among the thorny roses.

If she is there, she is shadow
along a part of the house
where the lights do not reach.

Paul returns inside,
presses his hand against the wall.
His finger tips detect the slight tap
of her heartbeat.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


Your eyelashes sag
from the weight of bird nests.

The blue you thought was sky
are Robin eggs.

You refuse to sleep or blink
afraid to tumble the nests.

As you succumb to exhaustion
the babies fledge and fly

to your bookcase,
then leave greenish-white droppings

on your leather bound copy
of Leaves Of Grass.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney

Before Backspacing

I ride the bus.
The number ten bus.
It does not have a bicycle rack.
I wish the bus was metaphorical.
It is as real as my wish for a car.
My cashless wish.
I cannot afford a new car.
I cannot afford a reasonable used car.
I can afford a junker.
It does not matter though.
I cannot afford auto insurance.
So I ride the bus.
Or I ride my bicycle.
Remember, the bus does not have a bicycle rack.
So I cannot combine the two sequentially.
I do combine walking and a bus ride sequentially.
I would like to walk while on the bus.
It would effectively demonstrate Einstein’s relativity theory.
The people I share the bus with do not care about Einstein.
Well, not to the best of my knowledge.
The worst of my knowledge calls everyone an ignorant boob.
And it named all the girls Veronica.
I am sure none of the girls are named Veronica.
Two women on the bus look like university students.
They talk biology and organic chemistry.
They might appreciate Einstein and my demonstration.
And Darwin on the origin of species.
But not Walt Whitman with his Leaves of Grass.
Wait. That was the worst of my knowledge speaking.
It is stupid. It is so stupid it spelled stupid stupide before backspacing.
Really. An evolved person should not call people names.
I guess I am not evolved.
I should read Darwin for Beginners.
I ride the bus, so there is time on the way home.
And the way to work.
Today is one of my two weekly days off.
I am on the way to the zoo.
I will seek Darwin lessons there.
I am sure Einstein demonstrations are there, too.
I bring Whitman along in my head
to recite to the animals.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


I have never recited poems to the animals at the zoo. I have read poems from poetry books to the trees of woods I like attending. Generally those woods are away enough from populations that it was rare someone heard me reading poems to the trees.

In the 1990s I participated in guerilla poetry readings while I lived in Milwaukee. Usually the city government buildings and the downtown business center. Recite and dash.