At Night I Stand Away from the Fire Light

In the fields we rehearse bayonetting people.
Artillery and missiles do not stop all of the bad guys.

In the army my skin color does not matter
as long as my thrust bayonet pierces an enemy uniform.

During a break we discuss
what type of memorials our government will build

over the mass graves we have found
outside every town large and small.

We discuss how not to become like the enemy
when we step across the border into their towns.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

More Often than Supposed

Sometimes. Still. In the carnage
of Ukraine’s front lines
a soldier expels his beloved’s name
riding an explosive shock wave
or crawling across a plowed field.

The stone gargoyles of Europe
leave their edifices
and fly to Ukraine’s battlefield
to consume the dead
and take rectangular shapes.

At a critical moment one side
fails to notice that a dirty white sheet
flapping in the wind
means something entirely other than
a mud-splattered ghost.

You again, a soldier says
facing a school chum across the street
on the outskirts of Kharkiv.
He shouts, Take cover!
knowing mortar rounds are flying.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Twelve Fifty-Seven

I do not know if it matters
if the Army uses artillery or bulldozers
to destroy houses.

Arms lift suitcases
stuffed with clothes and personal items
in a reassessment of value.

One way or another, at sunrise
prayer is called for
and rituals engage to calm nerves.

Dust from the destruction
hangs in the air like a toxic gas
that eats stability and morale.

If the Army cleared the land
so crops grew among the ghost houses
without tangling bones

I would not require this asylum
helplessly trying to make sense
of the senseless.

We stopped counting steps
at twelve hundred and fifty-seven.
We walked until night closed the day.

We slept that night under trees
that housed mourning doves.
They shat on us when they took flight.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

One Shoe Drops

Lori describes her bed
as a sack of potatoes
and her pillow
as a bread loaf full of hungry mice.

Of course she is in her cups.
Of course she feels an ache for connection.

It is the hour of brag
that men label happy
where work-day stomach pains
relax with applied poisons.

Of course she wants someone in her life
to break up with.

Far away in Ukraine
fourth cousins three times removed
fight an enemy armed with lies
that generate a holy sense of purpose.

Of course Lori does not think about it
at a conscious level.

Lori is dimly aware she survives
a toxic, sexist digital workplace
drinking until everyone goes home
and the door shuts her out.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Measure of Limits

I did not bear witness.
Witness bore me into unspeakable depression.

When we talked to each other
we could not get past sports to politics.

Our sentences self-diverted around the storm
then stalled in the dull-drums.

We were not doing well.
Time shape-shifted into the albatross around my neck.

Though I tried to give you honest answers
I failed, but lied in less than half the responses.

Those lies were about the factual truth.
What I spoke was my emotional truth.

Inadvertently I became a master of avoidance—
especially from others in this dark solitude.

My mind lost descriptive words from lack of use.
Language refused to be a shovel to dig my depression deeper.

Language took a stab at crude description
and pierced witness through the left foot into the ground.

It described a littered street as a slaughter house.
The deceased lay with hands tied behind their backs.

There were no more cheeks to turn.
Justice required a reckoning.

I waged war with love on my tongue
and in my murderous hands.

That was why POWs lived
to have a day in court.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney