A second harvest
snuck in before the first freeze.

A can of ripe pitted olives
empty—the attached lid pushed inside.

Ranks of aspens in one direction.
Files in the other.

The bones of a homestead
visible in a few chimney stones.

A path by the creek
maintained by elk and deer.

The raucous call of a scrub jay
from a lonely greyed fence post.

Country gravestones so old
the names are worn off.

A couple pearlescent sapphires
on an ant mound.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Window above Thirteen Thousand Feet

Maybe I should not have brought you here.
Paul said to Lori—
the mountain top beneath their feet
the tree line half a mile back.

The air is so thin I see saints through the veil.
Lori said to Paul—
her hand clutched a wisp of cloud
her other hand on a rock to steady herself.

Do you see the miracle workers or the martyrs?
Paul asked Lori—
his eyes searched the present sky
his ears listened for wing flaps.

The everyday saints like single moms.
Lori replied to Paul—
spying women like her mother
who survived husbands lost in wars.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney


When I was small children—
a small child—
I filled my hands with fallen leaves.
Nine in number.
One for each position on the ball field.

I used river smooth stones
to represent the other team.
Fifteen of them.

They needed subs during the game.

Four round magnets
taken from the refrigerator
represented the bases.

I used a crooked stick to measure
the base paths
but never got the diamond shape
to have ninety-degree angles.

The air in the back yard was not quite right
for my pretend stadium
with the rot of the compost pile
seeping out from the covering dirt.

So I set up in the side yard under the maple.

I was all twenty-four players
and two coaches—
one of which picked up a red phone
to call the bullpen.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Conversation Residue

On the porch from a glider—a wave.

A grudge disrobes to dance a polka
while saying forget me.

Old papyrus contains untranslated guidance.

Do not sit next to me
no matter how pleasant your intentions.

Admit it out loud.

Your behavioral suggestions
are not mandates.

Drink this so the china cup is empty
and may be hand washed.

Not every spot on the wall is good for staring.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney


In time I will expire.
I have no expiration date.

How did an omniscient god
not print this number somewhere on my body?

How may I budget my retirement
without this detail?

What if I run out of money
before the end?

What if my excess capital
causes my inheritors to fight

and squander their inheritance
on lawyers?

I will pre-designate
those who preserve the landscape

of hills and woods once soaked red
with American blood.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Heritable Changes

I saw my likeness
in the sepia tones of a daguerreotype.

A single ostrich feather in my Hardee hat.
The face stony, holding still for the exposure.

I was dressed for war.
Adorned with war’s accoutrements.

Then I saw the dead
the man who shared my likeness killed

with a Merrill carbine
and three Colt six-shooters.

I saw hope in the dead’s eyes
upon me spying them within the bounds of the photo

like suddenly their fright evaporated
and their shaking ceased.

Like the trauma of the grievous wounds
settled in my generation and expired.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney


Some days
I think of washing some dishes
and not others.

I calculated I spent half my life
with this southwestern pattern
on my plates and bowls.

And tableware so nicked, dinged and scratched
it looks as if the dullness
was part of the original design.

Thirty-three years
and I have not lost a single spoon
fork or knife.

Only souvenir coffee cups
to mark and commemorate national park visits
have impacted the floor to shatter.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Gratitude and Relief

Before you ….
I do not like to think about that time.

The lack of touch.
Spirit withdrawing into a protective shell.

It was a mix of intentional
and unintentional.

Frugal courage.
The emotional safety of a small life.

The joy of no expectations but my own.
Self-set boundaries.

But the death of sharing took a toll.
That was my only self-inflicted wound.

The other scars
explain why I lived this way for so long.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney


Paul held a package of dates
he purchased at the store.


He trusted the green label.

As far as he knew
forced child labor picked the dates from the street
where palms lined the boulevard
in a foreign city.

The fact that someone picked them
implied they were second-hand dates.

He wondered if the pickers washed their hands first.

He assumed the pitting was done
by an automated machine.

The same with the packing company.

The idea these might be fourth or fifth hand dates
bothered him.

When he cracked the seal
and opened the package
he pushed the container toward me.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney


I said what I meant.
My words sank into the cheese fondu.

I suggested you get a chip
a triangular chip

and dig my words out
to taste them through semi-liquid dairy fats.

No. That word was inlet.
Not in debt.

You guessed an island could be
without money.

But not without rocks
and a sunset over the ocean’s horizon line.

That was why we were here: the sunset.
Not the food or the wine.

Oh. For you it was the claret
and the youth that captured your eye

who stood in the gazebo
espousing climate dooms.

I thought that was better than a churchgoer
who only practiced the missionary position.

Like the one who fooled you into marriage
before confiding sexual preferences.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney