Activist

I was six when I was taught
to wash my hands with soap and water.

That was the age I was tall enough
to reach the sink and the bar of soap.

I learned to fill the air with reciting
one of several poems from Now We Are Six

that took at least twenty seconds
to scrub my hands long enough.

I did the math to calculate
that boys three times older than myself

fought the Vietnam War
and died in the jungles and on the hillsides.

In the TV news reels I saw
only a few of the soldiers had clean hands.

This began my daily protests.
Not about the Vietnam war.

But about washing my hands before supper
after playing baseball all afternoon.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Political Tourists

At every protest
I expect to see Jay
acting up in the front row
or at the podium
just like he did so often
between his AIDs diagnosis
and eventual death
back when my temper and rage
spent itself quietly inside me,
and not let loose
on the out-of-state maniacs
trying to block Cynthia
and other young women
from entering the clinic
I escorted then to
so they might learn their choices
and educate themselves
on which course their consciences
would draft them to complete.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Lights Go Out

On a bedstand
a sprig of lavender dries

over a photo of Father
wearing one of his rare smiles.

A curtain of song
darkens a quartet of windows.

Liberated,
Lori’s hair falls past her shoulders.

From another room,
the news describes the violence

of the ignored
refusing to be the ignored any longer.

She whispers a prayer
for the protesters and law enforcement.

The sky reddens.
She fears the phone may ring.

She settles into her bed.
A block of ice.

The lavender scent
flashes images of her very first dog.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Savage

Hunger strikes all my promises
hammer blows,
flattens them like a penny
placed on train tracks.

The veneer of civilization
falls like pounds
from beneath my tightened belt,
and my hollowed cheeks.

It has been years
since my hands formed fists
or my feet stomped
the life out of something small.

In this land of plenty
my predicament
hardens fingernails
to claw your shirt and face.

You armor yourself with laws
and institutions
and the false fronts of non-profits
to feed the poor.

You kiss yourself in public
for your generosity
at the same time that you lay-off
twenty-five thousand workers.

You may paint me as the animal.
Yes, I kill to survive,
while you practice industrial scale exploitation
and savage the folks who work the land.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

So Often It Becomes Normal

Paul walked in circles around a tree.
The tree shaded him on all sides.
Paul knelt and untied his shoes, but kept them on.
He lay down on the grass to nap through the heat.
The tree rustled its leaves a little to give Paul
the illusion of a cooling breeze.

At the corner children begged dollars for food.
They held cardboard signs messages
printed with hunger and several spelling errors.
They blocked traffic in an act of extortion
though they were too young to know what extortion meant.
They blocked traffic until the police arrived.

The children were not connected to Paul
through blood, marriage, community or religion.
Paul snoozed through the police round up of the kids.
Paul snored once as the squad car door slammed shut.
A grasshopper landing on his cheek woke Paul.
Paul sat up and noticed traffic flowed through the intersection.


copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney