Jenny stood in the center
of the high school basement
as if she was a drum major
twirling a baton at the head
of a marching band.

Long hours of practice
paid dividends in that other kids
started showing up
and playing invisible instruments.

Once there was enough of them
to be a marching band
they read through Hardee’s Manual of Arms
because it was the only
precision marching instructions they could find.

On the rare occasions they practiced outside
any serendipitous observers
recognized they played marshal songs
and attributed them to John Philip Sousa.

After thirteen weeks of practice
Jenny filled out an application
to march in the Fourth of July parade
with the caveat the band
had to be near the front
away from the fire truck sirens
that always closed the parade.

Mistaking a Civil War sutler’s store website
for a marching band uniform business
Jenny ordered Zouave red pantaloons
and dark blue coats and red kepis with gold braid
in the style of the Fourteenth Brooklyn.

On the Fourth the band marched and played
with precision maneuvers by the rank and file
with a single hole in the formation
for the fife player whose parents insisted
she go with the family over to their cousin’s house
for barbecue and fireworks.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Left Him Alone While It Rained

Paul sat at a cafe table.
A sign stood on his table with the words
Arguments five dollars.

He played to his strength
since he was not good at reading
tarot or palms.

Business was not brisk.
In fact a cafe patron took pity on him
and brought him a burger with fries.

Paul looked her square in the eye
and said he asked for ham and Swiss
on pumpernickel with chips and a dill pickle.

The woman walked away in huff.
She failed to read the fine print on the sign
that said he accepted barter.

Paul would have added Coke no Pepsi
in quasi-honor to John Belushi
but the woman had brought him a ginger ale.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney


There is something important I need to tell you
but I am afraid the osage orange hue of my words
will be lost to your black and white ears
thus your understanding of my meaning
will be flattened though possibly artistic.

It does not help that I know
you have lost hearing in your right ear.
So only your left ear will hear
what I have to say and the words I use to say it.
I fear that makes your interpretation too liberal.

I wish I had something simple to say
like please squeeze a lime on the sliced avocado.
Or three out of the four Minnesota Vikings
defensive front line known as the Purple People Eaters
made it into the Football Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio

It would be different if this was October
and orange leaves on their way to brown
hung over your head like the butter knife of Damocles.
Especially if the western hemisphere finally adopted
Oriental medicine and merged it with mainstream treatments.

I know by now I have lost your attention
dissembling as I do about my worries
and so there is little reason to say anything at all
since you picked up the remote
and brought up the program guide on the telly.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Dead Parrot Sketch

Instead of teaching our parrot
to say hullo and goodbye
we taught it magical spells
from a battered leather bound book
we found at a woo-woo resale shop.

Some days the parrot used
the wrong inflection
on a turned phrase
and we found ourselves
at the beach by Santa Monica pier.

The third time the parrot
teleported us
onto a romantic seat
of the Santa Monica ferris wheel
but it failed to recall us
back to the kitchen
in our Albuquerque house.

Thus the parrot starved to death
since my wallet was still in
my other jeans
and Dianne’s purse
hung on the back
of a dining room chair.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Before The Mirror

Paul pulls a coat on over one shoulder.
Then the other shoulder.

It is a frock coat.
Dark blue dyed wool fibers.

As frock coats are designed to do
it reaches his knees.

As he pushes brass buttons through buttonholes
he contemplates the word frock.

One. A woman’s or girl’s dress.
Two. A long gown with flowing sleeves worn by monks.

Three. A field labor’s smock.
Four. Short for frock coat.

He pushes the last button through its hole.
His fingers feel the letters US embossed in the brass.

He imagines his coat made from a flowery dress
found at a retail shop.

But that would be cotton most likely.
Wool is important and historically accurate.

He imagines McClellen in a frock coat
made from a girl’s flowery dress.

He smiles at his own wickedness.
Imagines McClellen reviewing the Army of the Potomac

in a flowery frock coat with an officer’s red sash
his belt and scabbard holding his dress sword.

Imagine the gold braided epaulettes on each shoulder.
Imagine the troops in blue trying not to snicker passing in parade.

Paul’s reason for dressing up is not reenacting Valverde.
But a cattle call for a movie part.

His frock coat has a captain’s infantry blue shoulder boards.
The movie part is a simple cavalry trooper.

He will deal with the fact he has not ridden a horse in decades
if he gets the bit part.

Sweet Potatoes

Paul stood in the cafeteria line.
There was no line.
He was undecided about soup or salad.
So he stood thinking. Deliberating.
For the first twenty minutes this bothered no one.
No one was in line before or behind him.
Then the lunch crowd started to show up.
Being polite the line did not force him to decide.
Being Paul he felt no peer pressure to move.
People who did not want soup or salad flowed around him.
People who did want soup or salad waited.
Being a Christian community they practiced the virtue of patience.
They were extremely good at it.
They were so good some people dropped out of the line.
They had to return to work hungry.
Some farther back in line decided Paul was an art piece.
They appreciated how well he stood still.
They debated if he was a realistic wax statue.
Those who flowed around him tended to select the turkey.
They added gravy on top of the turkey.
They added gravy on top of an ice cream scoop of mashed potatoes.
There were mashed sweet potatoes too.
No one took a scoop not being sure what the orange stuff was.
At least the orange stuff did not have raisins.
Sometimes flies were mistaken for raisins before they flew away.
Sometimes flies arrived before the food.
A fly buzzed around Paul’s head.
The fly was not Beelzebub or any of his disciples.
The fly annoyed Paul just enough he added coleslaw to his plate.
The line lurched forward.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Mental Engine Block

My car refuses to enter Denver, Colorado.
In fact it refuses to go over Monument Pass.

I tried gunning it up and over
but the engine died and we rolled backward

against traffic on Interstate Twenty-Five
which is as scary as you imagine.

My car works fine south of Colorado Springs.
I doubt my car’s disfunction is perpetrated by the Air Force Academy

by the Garden of the Gods
or some healing water spirit in Manitou Springs.

I have tried entering Denver on US Two-Eighty-Five
and from the east and west on I-Seventy.

All attempts failed. I took a Greyhound from Albuquerque
and the bus broke down outside Fountain

under the gaze of Cheyenne Mountain
with both NORAD and the Zoo.

Other than this fact, my car is a good car
and gets me where I am going in a timely manner.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Pop Quiz

When fish swim in the dark
do they bump into things?

Why are the Swiss the only nation with an army knife
when all nations have armies?

When an influencer receives more likes than New York City
is that influencer a media center?

Why do so many people show up to Happy Hour
and spill their sadness all over the bar?

How does burning sage and spreading its oil-smudged smoke
cleanse a room or any other location?

Am I old enough that when I behave like an idiot
people will believe I am simply confused?

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Empty Fob Hangs From The Rearview Mirror

On Easter
each year
we massacre
chocolate bunnies
of various sizes
and cacao percents.

If they were not hollow
I would eat their hearts first

on the theory
there is more rabbit luck
in the heart
than in a rabbit’s foot.

The one solid
chocolate bunny
I did find
had no individual organs.
I used my
Swiss Army knife
to cut a heart
out of the body
and mounted it
on a key chain
but my luck ran
all over the dashboard
the first day
the sun heated
the car’s interior
to one hundred
and four degrees.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Going Home From The Park

I pulled a robin from my throat.
I set it in my child’s red wagon.

My child sat next to the robin red breast
in the red wagon.

She petted the bird like it was a dog.
The robin rolled over for a belly scratch.

I pulled the red wagon out of the parking place
and into a parade.

A parade bereft of clowns.
The parade marshaled several marching bands.

I pulled the red wagon into line
behind the tuba players.

Alabama. Crimson Tide. Um-pah! Um-pah!
Roll Tide. Roll down the street.

The tuba players pushed milky white notes
out of their brass instruments.

Their swiveling marching routine
blended the notes into an aural milkshake.

My child in the red wagon clapped.
She gulped down the music.

The robin sang in competition
rather than in harmony.

When the parade reached our apartment
I bent-arm signaled a right turn.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney