New Old West

Several floors below heaven
a passing train startles Paul awake.

His cotton mouth misspeaks
the planet’s name to a oompah band’s brass.

This unintentional misdirection
opens a seam in the universe to another

where twenty-seven children
wear cardigans and sob at the direction

of an orchestra conductor
lifting a photogenic baton.

Paul wets his face at a hands-free faucet
while portraits of Napoleon Bonaparte

and Thomas Jefferson eye each other
from adjacent sides of the mirror.

Paul notices his doll-skin pallor.
He thinks this a clue to contact his therapist.

But is afraid to interrupt happy hour
half way around the globe.

As he towels water off his face
a gunmetal quote appears on the mirror’s surface

as a cloud wishing thunder
not Smith & Wesson shots fired in a hold up

of the morning train’s mail car
as it clickity-clacks out of Dodge City, Kansas.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Best

I gave you my best self.
It was a first generation copy of my best self.

The original burst into flame
in my therapist’s office.

Good thing I make a back up
every ten days, overwriting the old backup.

It was the best gift I could think to give you.
I thought it would energize our relationship.

If photos recorded how we would be
ten minutes into the future,

each photo would show us taking a new photo.
Obsessed with the future, we’d forget to live in the present.

Imagine me feeding you a strawberry
slathered with whip cream.

I would do it if that would focus us
on that instant together without tangents or drift.

We would learn to tell time to shove off,
so a romantic afternoon

trickled into an evening, a sunset—
us listening to each other like never before.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Preference

Lori choked
on the devil.
He dressed himself
in yellow mustard,
egg yoke and paprika.
She prefers him
in snake form
wrapped around
a tree limb
offering temptation
in the guise
of forbidden
knowledge
about the trauma
of therapists’
rag doll demonstrations—
snow white ghosts
too many years
in closets scared
by the vast salt flats
expanding away
from the doorframe
under a sky
of circling vultures
knowing Los Alamos
is up to something,
but not what
when they call
on the Trinity.


copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney