On the Surface of What is Real

Paul sorts through the Scrabble tiles
for a willful word
that will brook no descent.

Lori tires of waiting for the message
and moves to the kitchen
to finish the dishes.

Pushing them apart
was never Paul’s intent
so he alters his mouth

to launch an apology
off his tongue
toward Lori’s ears.

Not looking for words
her head is turned
at the wrong angle.

Some utterances
fail to part the curtain of hair
covering her ears.

So the apology becomes a malady
of television watched alone
on the love seat.

Paul starts over
after an uncomfortable hour
with an old standard

that comes from some place real
with an I love you
that pierces Lori’s mood

and finds that beautiful place
where conversation begins
and troubled waters smooth.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Roundabout

Trying to rewind his life
to last Thursday to a time ten minutes before
he said something stupid to Lori
which got her mad at him,
Paul walked backwards through the neighborhood.

The neighborhood sidewalks
were old and uneven.
His first stumble and fall
took place in front of their cafe—
the place where they first met.

He banged his head on the concrete.
Several bystanders helped him up
and gave him walking suggestions.
The best one was if he insists on walking backward
not to have his hands in his pockets.

Paul walked backward into Sarti’s Bar
which was full of happy hour people
busy with happy hour drinking.
He bumped into a bus-woman clearing tables
and sent empties spinning across the floor.

The merriment of the bar flowed around him
like he was a stone moving through a stationary stream.
The metaphor was backward enough to tickle his fancy.
His laughter joined the merriment of the joint.
He took a barstool and ordered a pint.

With his back to the silent TV he cheered
when others cheered the Broncos football play.
Neil Young’s Heart of Gold played on the old jukebox.
Lori walked forward into Sarti’s.
Because he was not facing the television Paul saw her arrive.

Lori walked forward to the bar next to him
squeezed between two occupied barstools
and ordered a pint. He apologized.
She accepted the apology and commented
that Mary called her to get down here when he entered backwards.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Downhill Toward a Hairpin Curve

Paul drove his dad to the hazardous waste dump.
His dad radiated a cobalt blue glow.

This glow was his nature shining through his death
as the body initiated decomposition.

He was a mean old cuss who was not afraid
to shoot your dog to make a point.

Paul feared the incineration of cremation
would release toxic particulate into the air.

He wanted professionals who would neutralize
the acid tongue that spoke from a heart of darkness.

He was sure he would have to junk his car
once this ride was over.

Nothing would get that blue glow
out of the upholstery.

The Geiger counter he carried on walks
through the desert near Los Alamos clicked regularly.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

You and I

We never counted the hummingbirds
that visited our feeder.

I was the one who jumped to touch clouds
but fell short on every try.

You were the one who barreled rainwater
for the bee balm and butterfly bushes.

We hiked every mapped trail in the foothills
and many that were unmapped.

I was the one who spotted birds first
even though you were the birder.

You were the one who moved quicker and faster
even though my legs were eight inches longer.

We shared water from a canteen slung across my back—
a replica wooden civil war canteen with cork stopper.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Where I Tell Dianne about the Civil War

We walk together.
Longer than we imagined.

We know the trail well.
We know where to help each other.

There are no wrong turns.
We know all the trails.

Some dead end at boulders.
Others make loops.

One goes up and over the ridge line.
Another follows the arroyo east.

We pass by strangers.
We hear snippets of their stories.

We hear mountain bike bells.
We hear thrashers and towhees.

We never ascend to the crest.
We remain below the tree line.

We never doubt
our return to the trail head.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Grin

A stranger’s smile
is best
because it implies
no conflict
and a willingness
to be reasonable
with the possibility
of new friendship.

Unless the smile
appears to be
a cat’s smile
and I feel
long whiskers grow
on my face
and my spine
elongates
into a mouse’s tail.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Restoration

Dora places
bright orange
construction cones
around our
love seat
as we initiate
the project
of building intimacy
but refurbishing
may be a better word
since we have
been together
fourteen years.
Lovely years
interspersed
with flareups
over silly things
like my ragged
flannel shirt
or her coffee mug
with the broken handle.
And serious things
like my resolving PTSD
and her releasing
codependency.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Repair

I placed my goal
in a vow
of silence
that should last
at least
three years
so the air
would have time
to heal
from my
violent rhetoric
in our last
stupid fight
over the date
Constantinople
changed its name
to Istanbul.
Which was
nineteen-thirty.
A date
neither of us
had right.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Not A Fairy Tale

Paul wrote a love story.
It was a hate story too.

Overall on the imagined scales of justice
love outweighed hate a hundred to one.

The problem was a linear story
weighs things at different times.

There was a plot point two-thirds of the way
through the story

that hate in the fictional wife’s mind
tipped the scale against her husband

on the day she learned
he had an affair with her sister.

Although both Leviticus and Deuteronomy
prescribe death for adulterers

the wife chose leaving
the house that was not a home anymore—

to not be a wife anymore
and to find another hand to hold her hand.

Being in her thirties she was not afraid
of dying of loneliness.

She packed her few things and left
on a great American road trip.

She discovered in her third hotel room
that she did not miss

the sound of manly feet on the floor at night
or picking up his socks from around the house.

The day she was in Taos New Mexico
she saw a triple rainbow against the mountains.

She declared it a sign.
A new life fell into place as if waiting for her.

The man who once was her husband
married the woman who remained her sister.

She did not attend the wedding.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Surrender

Knowing your mercenary heart
I asked you to fight my battles
and win every one.

We haggled for several hours
but were too far apart
and neither side opted for arbitration.

I no longer know your voice
since you chose not to be the fierce friend
to back me up in bars.

You took up watching soap bubbles
exude from fancy toys
to dazzle park goers.

I dove into digital numbers—
the infinite subset between
zero and one.

As you gathered folks around you
to enjoy the simple wonders
that brought you to natural settings

I pushed them farther and father away
connecting through applications
and screens across oceans.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney