Couched

It was too late for Paul.
Too many beers to drive safely back home.

Being too late, his relationship might end.
But his relationship’s trouble was why he drank.

If the cantina had not been too busy
the bartender might have listened to him vent.

In that case he might have drunk less
and been home at a reasonable time.

In time for an argument about the beer on his breath
and her contention David Bowie

was the greatest rocker of all time.
A designation he gave to Led Zeppelin.

He loved arguing this type of personal truth
when he was twenty-something.

Now he felt all these debates should be settled
since social media was readily available

and ranked choice voting applied
to determine the greatest rocker once and for all.

Paul kept his keys in his pocket
and pulled out his smart phone for a Lyft.

He went outside to wait
afraid he would not notice the arrival notification

over the brassy mariachi band
and lovely Latin girls dancing skirts aswirl.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Breakup

I know I am not blameless.
I broke most of my promises
to myself, too.

My punishment is searching for you
as dusk settles
in a Grimms’ Fairy Tale forest

I fell asleep under a tree and woke
with scales, a long tail, a smoking snout
and heartburn.

I found your footprints in the dirt.
They led into an aspen grove
and away from me.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Burned Out Wick

I can tell from looking in your eyes
you will skin me alive
if I keep secrets from you.

I think about all the ways
I am the target
of your paranoid marksmanship.

Of course there is shouting
when we use vodka to fuel
our lamps.

At least while you are drunk
your aim is poor
and I can run to the river.

And there I may dive in
to join the other surviving fish
with hooks cut from their mouths.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Penguins

I see the ocean surround me
everywhere I go.

I live on the mountain
and in deep salty waters.

There are birds that fly
both mountain air and the ocean.

Do not swat at the things that bother you
or you may break their wings.

Sometime last year I realized
my heartbeat powers the tide.

I feel I should have naturally
sensed that rhythm

and recognized it
shortly after I was born.

Maybe puberty pushed it
out of my awareness.

I placed my hand on my heart
to regulate the tides

and alter the moon’s effect
on my love life.

I removed
a rib by mistake

and broke it into a quintuplet
set of Eves—

all penguins swimming
near the tree line.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Top Of My Right Ear

We practice
some body contortions
and some simple positions
so our scars press
against each other
with the understanding
those pale lines
represent us
at our most open,
raw and vulnerable.

Taking turns
our tongues
tell our scars’ stories
even if the telling
drops our words
into whispers.

With our bare fingers,
we practice
learning this odd
raised-skin Braille
so we may decipher
the words that never
find their way
to our tongues
and so, by chance,
our fingers may recognize
and translate the pain
that never broke skin.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Father On His Son’s Birthday

Alone, on the old Manassas Battlefield,
I wait for you, for what you might be,
what I might become. I sit
on the thick grass near the Robinson House
and listen to the voices of birds,
the voices of the old bronze monuments,
the voices on the wind as it moves through the branches.

If you have grown into yourself, as I hope,
how will I recognize your voice,
the different tread of your footsteps,
the recent histories you speak?

Lonely, I walk down to the stone bridge—
Bull Run flows as it has for years uncounted—
to the new road that layers itself
upon the old road that once carried limbers
and their combative cannon.

Lonely, I trust that our battles ended,
that a reconstruction of our friendship
returns like the song birds
to find the berries ripe upon the branches,
like the farmers who till the fields
as all their forefathers before them.

If you have grown into yourself, as I hope,
you do not need me anymore,
do not require my advice or guidance.
Boldly, you make your own history.

Alone, on the old Manassas Battlefield,
I walk the slight path past the farm ford
and up the flanks of Matthews Hill
where Evans once stood up to Burnside,
where you, my son, first stood up to me.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

postscript

I ran out of new work that I felt good enough to post, since I had a tough writing week where creativity was scarce. This poem is from my book Fluid Shape Of An Empty Womb. It is one of my all time favorites of my own poems.

Moon Over Syntax

Paul considered Dora’s elbow
as it stuck out
with her hands cupped
behind her head
as she reclined upon pillows.

His gaze drifted
across the bridge of her nose
to the wine glass
set upon a saucer
with scone crumbs
left there from morning.

He brought himself back
to their slim dialogue
but paid more attention
to how his hand felt
the gentle rise of her breath
from where it lay
diagonal across her belly.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Analysis

We never
reveal our tipped wings.

Discuss
our right to bayonet charges.

A Cooper’s Hawk
dismantles a struck dove.

Right there
fright feathers finally land.

Incomplete statistics
rarely have true meaning.

You prefer raw data.
I prefer a glass of cabernet.

We move
toward and away from each other.

We have sex
on a departures time table.

A colored sunset
reminds you of the hawk’s bloody beak.

I want to feel
her talons latch on.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Bartime

Paul believes
he earned
something sweet.

He hoists
a pint of bitter
ghosts.

He measures
the conductive power
of a white lie.

Paul puts away
his verbal knives
but not his rapier wit.

He recognizes
how desperation
weakens his case.

He speaks over
his listening
impairment.

The fruit
of his efforts
exits his proximity.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Late Night

Such a garish red.
Your interior mind.
Deceptions work deceptions.
A horizontal fall.
A bed soaked passage.
You brush your interrupted tongue.
You depart to the compass points.
A pattern of edges.
A storied composition.
A bright objection.

Altogether we smooth rough spots.
We detect desire’s divergence.
Strike the red paint like a tent.
An exuberant room.
A collapsed wreckage.
Aggressive tears turn hurt to anger.
Sweat beaded upon skin.
Unmovable dirty windows.
Our hungers compete.
Catastrophic.

A headless pillow.
A dripping faucet.
Midair water droplets.
Perfect circles float.
A breeze created by breath.
A jagged calm.
You reveal yourself.
Everything I need to know.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney