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

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

Any Soil

Because to claim the land
we spilled blood
both ours and the original occupants
we assumed the right
to name every landmark
with our language
overprinting their musical tongues.

In some places the land
held on fiercely to its original name
unconcerned about the bloodstains
and our declarations of holiness.

In other places our names
sullied the air with burning
that refused to go out.
The acrid smoke drifted
and stuck to all objects
living or created.
Thus the new leaves on trees
did not appear green
and no fruit was born
that first year.

Because of the ruined graves
in a trench-line landscape
the promise that spurred our invasion
was scattered like bread crumbs
before our advance columns
reached the outskirts
of the end of the world.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Brain Veering

Their footprints
registered as signs of war.

A shepherd
recognized the strut

the bent
and broken grasses.

A roan horse
followed Paul all the way

back to the homestead
then waited at the stable door

for Paul to open it
and let the horse in.

Paul removed
his saber and scabbard

hung them
over the mantle piece

where his
West Point diploma leaned

against a mason jar
that contained brandied peaches.

Without a fistfight
or any back talk

Paul declared
the war over

though he never informed
the other side.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney


In the famous paintings portraying
Saint George slaying the dragon,
the poor beast is such a small creature—
maybe the size of an elkhound
or a mountain lion—
that I assign the label Monster
to the man on horseback
though I know the image is metaphorical
about the passage from adolescent
to adulthood for both the man
and the woman being rescued
from the jaws that bite and tear away
the innocence of childhood.

As the world grew and progressed
through the centuries,
the dragon increased in size and ferocity
and gained the ability to fly
and breathe great jets of flame
and lay waste to an entire countryside
just as Man’s wars grew
in the same way.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney


Last night I watched
a documentary
on Gettysburg
and I was surprised
how they dumbed it down
and left out large portions
of the battlefield conflict
to focus on individuals’

Although these accounts
were interesting
and brought a human element
to the history,
no viewer could understand
the information
and misinformation
commanders made
their decisions by
or the battle as a whole.

Then I thought
maybe that was the point.
There is no understanding war
only the monotony
that precedes the maelstrom
and the constant heave
of the knife’s edge
that separates
courage from terror.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

After A War

After a war
mothers walk
the underworld
to retrieve
their sons
and daughters.

But they
do not look
the same
as they did
when alive.

Empty hands
return with tears
from shallow
ponds and
the deepest lake.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Something Hard

Paul began a war.
He began it by breaking a rule.
He bent the rule first around a column.
He measured the column for consistency.

The rule broke on a column
one inch too long in circumference.
The stonemason had only the one rule.
Paul broke it.

The stonemason swung his hammer
to break Paul’s head.
Paul saw it coming.
He dodged in time to save his head.

The swung hammer sang its desire
to impact something hard.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Tit For Tat

When you want your war
to be an internal affair
it is foolish to kill foreigners,
especially tourists.

But killing tourists
gets your splinter group’s name
on international media platforms
for six to twelve hours.

The explosion is not a wake up call,
but part of the grey noise
war inflicts upon participants,
blurs the We were wronged message

and you fear asking for peace talks
is a sign of weakness.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney