We sought to liberate the slave
from the cruelness
of sun, field and lash

but did not consider
the eternal enmity
of former owners in defeat.

We could have swept
the Old Dominion state
clean into the ocean.

Cleared it
of plantation owners
and the white working class.

The radical Republicans
desired something
akin to that response.

Mr. Lincoln desired
a new testament ending
rather than an old one.

So we honored
the terms Grant delivered
and filled no more coffins.

But it was we
who suffered future retribution
for simply breathing free air.

copyright © 2023 Kenneth P. Gurney

Lack of Consent

A man trades two slaves for a horse.
I do not have to tell you about his Mississippi accent.

I do need to relate to you that he asked not one question
about how the receiver of the two slaves
would treat them

while the man with the horse sought assurances
the horse would be treated well.

We never think of a horse or a cow as a slave.
Or whether our treatment of them
will affect our entry into the kingdom of heaven.

The owners who argued slaves were livestock property
never stood trial for the crime of bestiality
no matter the numbers of mulatto children underfoot.

Or were arrested and tried for rape
for those owners who argued slaves were merely lesser people.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney


Linda. Who is Linda?
Who lives inside of Linda?

She prefers to smoke
while looking at herself in mirrors.

She stands in a crowd
produces summer-time claustrophobia

so the beach becomes strangely quiet
and thousands of bibles wash up on the shore.

There is that something that seems
so off-century about her.

Like corsets. Like birds in her hats.
Like calling her slaves servants.

Linda is often spotted in the business district
impersonating the Christ

dispensing new order of magnitude kindness
while juggling three mercurial moons.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney


A woman with seven daughters
and no husband
lives down by the sea
on a windswept island
bare of trees.

Her old house was built
on the sea side
and took the full force
of each storm
and the salt carried
from the waves.

The house was once
a church where slaves
congregated back before
storm tossed tides
washed free the island
from the land.

The woman did her best
to preserve the prints of hands
that made the dyestuff indigo
and listened to the seashells’ whispers
for those people’s stories.

Her seven daughters
swim so well at school
that the towns people
claim they have gills
and the sea salt
that dries on their skin
are scales.

The woman’s favorite time
is when the sky blooms with rain
so she may watch droplets
splash to waves
in some nautical
native tongue.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney