Paul scours eBay for suicide notes
of people who happily failed to follow through.

He wishes to study the notes for signs
to recognize the prelude

of either his own deathly desire
or that of a friend’s.

In his search, he turns up printed and cursive blessings
penned by a thousand different hands.

The blessings are anonymous
and there is an honesty to them that touches him.

That leads Paul to children’s crayon drawings
and memories of kindergarten—

the birthplace of abstract expressionism
and the impressionists.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney


The MRI did not reveal
your deeper injuries.

There was no remedy
for what you could not speak aloud.

You spoke of this prickly black ball
that contained lightning.

Sheets struck your heart.
Its thunder trembled your limbs.

For a time you practiced self-medication
through sex and baseball.

After seven therapists
saw you only as a subject

you found a counselor
at a church clinic helping mostly addicts.

She was the first to see you.
A living, grieving person.

You threw yourself into the black maelstrom
sure your masters level education would prevail.

But you never found words to describe
what occurred before you acquired speech.

As unmoored shame overwhelmed
your other emotions,

sex took a sick twisted turn
and baseball turned into bar fights.

You blamed yourself time and again
for not succeeding.

Alone, you died unable to bear
not decoding the redacted variables.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


Nine people I have known chose to take their own lives. I think that number large for one person. My guess is that it is because I have lived in communities full of artists, poets, and musicians. I have read that doctors, dentists, and lawyers have higher suicide rates. Maybe they are spread out enough through the neighborhoods.

I have lived with depression all my life. PTSD most of my life. There are good days and bad days. Hard work with therapists, a support system of caring people, creative outlets and good fortunate kept my bad days from taking me past the line to suicide when life was most difficult.

About Face

It begins with the bridge into this world.
It recedes as you walk into birth.
You remember it as a song echoing the gap it spanned.
That song defies the delivery, the static wailing.

In times of crises that song rises in your cells.
It works to dispel your denial of the truth.
Your pinched fingers clean dead moths from a window sill
and then their dust from your hands.

You know there are two cliff faces where you stand.
One is real, rock hard, with a river running the bottom.
The other is the choice between conflicting actions,
endings and beginnings and definitions of both.

The real cliff is not the same as when you last visited.
This time tree branches cluster with leaves.
The pungent sage in the air.
The thistles wear the purple of popes.

You arrive here remembering the barrenness.
At least that is what you tell yourself.
But it was the other chasm that requires bridging
that brought you here and a memory of doing so once.

Suddenly, you doubt you fed the dog this morning.
How could you be so negligent?
Doubt roughs you up, both inside and out.
It rubs you raw as it smooths out a thought.

The song breaks through for a moment
and spans the physical chasm with a dusty light.
You feel a leap of faith is required
to bound over the bridge onto a solution.

But you take a step back from both edges.
You realize you do not require definitions
of endings and beginnings.
They are synonymous and daily in appearance.

A line of quail speed past you, take up your attention
and turn you around to follow them.
First with your eyes. Then with your feet.
You are back at your car. Seven miles from your dog.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


When I lived in Taos, NM in the late 1990s, I often went to the Taos Gorge and the trailhead there. I went for walking. I went for the beauty of the mesas. I went for the rent in the earth and the river far below.

Depression was a lot worse for me back then than it is today. I would go to the gorge to think, to processes the multitude of experiences that happened in a week or in the past. There is something about larger than humanity geography that humbles this person. Evidence that the world is far larger than yourself. Why I like living in the mountains, though a sea or great lake coast will do in a pinch.

During my years in Taos, the gorge became a place the people traveled across the country to commit suicide. From the highway bridge to the bottom is more than 800 feet. Some of the people leapt from the edge of the gorge instead of the bridge. The walls are fairly sheer and the rocks jagged enough.

I remember puzzling out my past and my present either in the mountains or along the gorge. My latest therapy session epiphanies. My appreciation of being alone and how it conflicted with a desire for connection. And so on.

Nature had (and has) a way of grounding me. Whether it is the flight of hawk in the gorge. Or the color of a flower bloom. Or the unexpected appearance of an animal. Magpies were favorites. I never felt lonely with magpies about.

I return to this basic poem and write it anew at least once a year. Similar, but different. The gorge. The impassable. And needing to span the fall to go forward. Or to recognize that gulf in the mind is just an old conviction and can be changed with altering attitude or perception.

I seem to rewrite this poem observing myself, separate from myself. Hence the You, even though I am speaking of my footsteps and the nature I stand in.

Love & Light


Absent Without Leave

Angela killed herself in her basement.
The non-crime scene photos held an abusive beauty
that should have their own exhibition at the museum,
like Gardner’s and Gibson’s The Dead at Antietam.

It was the same rope her mother used
to commit the same self-violence fifty years before,
saved these countless days of desolation and depression,
a memento hidden from family and friends.

Why is peace so hard to find?
Why is God said to condemn those who choose it?
Why is the white daisy in her lapel?
Why does the world blur at this Angela memory?

Now is the time to get well. Today, damn it!
As if mending from the doorway revelation
is as easy as bending to the street to pick up a lucky penny.
Such orders seem to find the soldier AWOL.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


“The Dead at Antietam” was a the first ever museum exhibition of war photographs. Gardner and Gibson were field photographers for the Brady studio in New York city. They arrived on the Antietam battlefield two to three days after the fighting before much of the carnage had be cleaned up. Many of the photos may be found at this portion of Time’s website.

I was not the person who walked in to find Angela. I am thankful for that fact.

I think people have only so much capacity to process the difficulties of life and that suicide should not be a crime or a moral black mark against the person. A person reaches a point and breaks, like a tree limb in a wind storm. Too much too quickly is the usually way. Or lack of supporting cast of friends and confidants.

Love & Light