Arrival

Paul stands alone
in the crowded town square.

Market day and he
just stepped off the bus

duffel bag in hand
a blue kepi on his head.

Pendleton wool jacket
over blue jeans, over boots.

New town. New Job.
New friends to be made.

A tarot reader insists on
an eight hour minimum wage day

to hint at fortune
and future.

Paul notes the market’s attendants
from bejeweled upper class

to grimy huddles
of the homeless.

A girl smokes a cigarette.
It clouds her beauty.

A Christmas tree blinks
adjacent to a gazebo

where a mariachi band
plays Christian holiday standards.

He types an address
into his smart phone—

two point three mile walk
to an empty apartment

and, being Sunday,
no heat or electric

until tomorrow
after his first day on the job.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Dennis Hopper Photo Over A Kiva Fireplace

Paul stays
foggy and drizzly
all day long.

Hot chocolate
does nothing
to alter his forecast.

Somewhere
far away in Europe
the hills echo

with World War II
as old ordnance
claims a milk cow.

Paul drifts up Taos’ Paseo
to prospect the sky
for three hundred thirty days

of brilliant sunshine,
magnificent sunsets
and light that entraps artists.

The purple thistles
seem out of season
but opportunistic

while climate change
performs its namesake duties
pressuring mercury.

Adobe Bar electrifies wooden music
and a spontaneous round
on Guinness pints.

The Hum contemplates
who hears it and who does not
separating the struggling Paul

for another day’s distraction
of journaling on rolling papers
and retreating into that fog.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Taking Stock

Paul undresses.
He strips behind Denver skyline.

He evaluates his body.
There is no cowboy left in him.

Only the remnant bruises, scars
and mended bones.

He buttons a clean shirt.
He alters a setting in his brain

to Taos, New Mexico
and the mountains behind it,

the comfort there
on the rocky slopes

with a string of tourists
on horses that do most of the work.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Three Times A Week

Blonde-One stops
at path-side stones
to sniff the local news.
She takes her time.

Her vinegar attitude
toward strangers
keeps them at a respectful distance.
We meet only two.

She stops to chew
a thorn out of her paw
instead of limping
to keep pace with me.

Blonde-One accompanies me
on the dry trail above Taos:
south of the Reservation,
north of the road to Angel Fire.

The trail covers a six mile loop.
In spite of the fact she has aged
she makes the round trip
because it is What we do.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

postscript

Today marks the first day of year three in my goal to post one poem per day for three full years. So two years are completed. For those of you who have followed me on this journey, thank you.

Yes. Blonde-One was the name of one of my dogs. She was a rescue that was matched up with the black furred dog I already had. His name was Shadow, more because he shadowed my movements as a puppy than his black fur. I planned to keep Blonde-One nameless for a week to ten days to get an idea of her personality, but she quickly understood the descriptor I used when we met other people meant her. So Blonde-One stuck because she answered to it.

Hum

When I left Chicago
I spent part of the next year
driving the country to visit
as potential places to live.
I picked out of Places Rated.

I figured the right place
would feel like the right place,
my bones would stop aching
and a sense of peace
would settle upon me
as I settled into a new home.

I drove coast to coast.
Along the way I stopped
at many historic sites
for a blacktop education
of American history.
I evolved both spiritually
and physically.

I stopped for a few days
in: Concord, New Hampshire;
Asheville, North Carolina;
Memphis, Tennessee;
Wichita, Kansas;
Boulder, Colorado;
Carson City, Nevada;
Davis, California;
and many other places,
but failed to lodge
in a geography or society.

On my way back
to my starting point,
my car broke down
in Taos, New Mexico.
The Land of Entrapment
as the saying skews.
I merely continued
a long tradition of timely
auto incapacitation.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

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

postscript

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

Kenneth

Location Sonnet

I may claim I moved off the reservation when I reached my majority, if you consider a ninety-eight percent republican Chicago suburb a reservation.

During my university semester in Germany, the locals refused to let me speak Auf Deutsch, so they might practice their English.

During that same semester, museum personnel misread my misprinted university ID card as Oxford instead of Rockford—I have dropped my R’s ever since, seeking to duplicate the benefits of misperception.

On our flight back to the U. S., a blizzard blanketed the midwest and east coast, so we were put in a holding pattern over the Atlantic. The plane got so small by the eighteenth hour, a hamster would not fit in that metallic tube.

I purchased my first cellphone when I lived outside Port Angeles, Washington. I walked to the top of the north hill overlooking the ocean to receive a signal.

When I lived in Taos, New Mexico there was no such thing as over-night delivery via Fed Ex or UPS or USPS. The family lawyers back in Chicago, despite their vast education and experience, could not fathom this.

I spent most of my one year living in Frederick, Maryland walking the Antietam battlefield. I cannot explain why I did not move to Sharpsburg, Maryland to shorten the commute.

Someday, in an effort to lose most of my sense of privilege, I think I should live in a location where I am the only white person for a hundred miles in all directions. Does such a place exist anymore?

Technically, as a white person, I am a minority in Albuquerque and in New Mexico as a whole. I never once felt minor.

Every summer day when the Albuquerque sunset paints the Sandia Mountains the watermelon color pattern that gave the mountains their Spanish name, I wonder why Nature fails to behave PC toward our African American citizens.

Albuquerque was named after Francisco Fernández de la Cueva, 10th Duke of Alburquerque. I like to believe they dropped the first R for my benefit.

Albuquerque is nicknamed the Duke City. The Duke never visited.

In Albuquerque you learn the lovesick sound of roadrunners calling for a mate. At your most lonely, you never sounded that bad off, even with six pints of beer spilling your desperation on someone sitting next to you at the bar.

Twelve years in Albuquerque with its many Indian casinos on the city outskirts and I have never visited one to place a single wager. My biggest payoff on my Albuquerque bet was meeting Dianne.


copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney

POST SCRIPT

Happy Independence Day (US) to you all. I trust you have lined up a joyous way of celebrating the 4th with plenty of friends of family no matter how much star spangled fireworks and festivities are in your day.

Sherman Alexie broadened my definition of a sonnet. I recommend reading his books whether poetry or novels.

My old (pre-Dianne) habit was to move every 1 to 4 years (usually 3 years) to a new location to explore the geography, history and culture. I am convinced the wanderlust had roots in tragedy with both searching and avoiding being part of the trauma process. Along the way I met a lot of really fantastic people, walked a lot of miles of trails, bicycled over 16,000 road miles, and learned I cannot adjust myself to fit in all cultures in the USA.

My tally is 9 states I have lived in. My favorite state is being in love with Dianne. New Mexico for all its poor ratings (48th, 49th or 50th in many government state rankings, such as education), is a beautiful place to live in with a great diversity of people. The only place I met a greater diversity was Washington D.C., especially on the National Mall with its tourists and locals and foreign & domestic politicians.

Love & Light

Kenneth

Neighborly

Thank you for adding color commentary
to my open mic performance
so the television audience knew
your interpretations of my Civil War allusions.

Thank you for the heat lightning above the desert grass,
the foolishness of your thunderous voice
booming curses over the draught stricken desert
that caused the rabbit brush to quiver perceptively.

Thank you for pointing out the iron ball
you wear about your ankle and drag along
as an impediment to your own slam poet glory
and explanation of your son’s two-eighteen batting average.

Thank you for the birds your house cat scares out of your yard
to decorate my trees like Christmas ornaments,
but I insist you maintain your cat within the boundary
of your titled land and the property lines you deem sacred.

Thank you for the woman standing in my latest poem.
She thought my living room was the event horizon
and escaped the black hole of your latest conspiracy theory
of the blighted deep state and an old testament marriage.

Thank you for your lack of gumption and preference to complain
so that your Ex got clean away on the tangerine contrails
of birds migrating north during the sun’s last light
toward the sound of the Taos hum, which I have never heard.

Thank you for the bitterness you chew
at your son’s absence from your life
and never let it grow into results we’d all regret
like the stumps that dot your yard.


copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney

POSTSCRIPT

I lived in Taos for three years and never heard the Taos hum, though I met many people who claimed to have heard it. Wikipedia entry on The Hum.

I have had some bad neighbors during my adult life, but none like the character I conjured for this poem. My worst neighbor stuck a gun in my face and threatened me for saying hello, how are you doing to his wife. She fled soon after with the help of her family and lawyers.

Over my years I aided, in small ways, two women to get away from abusive husbands. Both of those men viewed the women with a concept of property ownership akin to slavery of old.

Once, when I lived in Colorado, I met a man who believed that because he owned property (land) he could do anything he wanted to the land, including burn it all to the ground to spite everyone who lived around him. His goal was to close the state road that ran through his property and lead to the mountain and national forest beyond his land from the rural highway. He wasted a lot of money on court cases against the state of Colorado and got into trouble of his own for erecting road blocks to stop traffic from driving across his land on the state road.

Although I participated in slam poetry for eight years, I rarely made it to the second round. Some of that is on me since I focused far more on writing, than performing. How much of it was my being an outsider compared to the core slam group, I cannot say. It makes sense that a familiarity of style and structure scores well, if the judges are chosen from the regulars. I always liked the saying at the beginning of the slams, “The point is not the points, but the poetry.” Even though I did not advance much and won only once, I had a good time and remember it all fondly.

Love & Light

Kenneth