Four Conditioners Left at Home

Lori laughed like jingle bells.
She returned from Paul’s well with water.
Two buckets for balance.

This cabin in the woods
was both horrible and beautiful. Alive.
Alive with too many things that scared her.

At night when the sky exposed
a hundred times more stars than the city lights allowed
they lay on the picnic table looking up.

Two buckets of water is not enough
to wash her hair or for a bath.
A shower contraption is a kind description.

Her mistake was believing out here
the birds would be so unafraid of people
that they would take turns landing on her hand.

Once Lori got over the idea that dirt made one dirty
the chores got done without complaint
as if she was changing skins.

She poured fire heated water into the tank
and combined it with cold water.
Gravity delivered the temperate mix to the shower head.

She realized her facial skin felt like her own
and not like a canvas for makeup.
Her eyes required no color but her brown irises.

One thing she luxuriated in
was Paul brushing her hair each night—
one hundred strokes.

Water from the shower head touched her face and hair.
She was quick with the shampoo
to lather and rinse before the tank emptied.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Traveling in Search of Adventure

It was not like when the warm wind
was a lover tickling my ear with her tongue.

I camped on one of the few flat spots
that defined the Continental Divide.

No fire. A reddish apple and almonds
was a feast for the century.

The stars were bright and numerous—
how could an ancient spot a new one.

I quieted myself and listened to the night sounds.
I fingered the brim of my hat.

Sleep was a flock of crows flown into my eyes.
The crows feasted on something dead inside me.

I awoke and they flew out.
I inhaled tastier air under a brighter sun

that intensified the colors of the rocks
and conifers and the blues of errant scrub jays.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Fiction 17 Jan 2022

The bear that clawed me
I owe an apology
and blame myself for trespass.

Our cartography draftsmen
do not draw boundaries
marked by scent glands.

I tell myself I am lucky
the bear was not hungry
and its border nearby.

Four grooves in my back
expose rib bones to air—
wear threads steeped in blood.

I tell myself this is a story
grandmother should hear
one bloody step after another.

That is if the earth
does not swallow me first
in an act of mercy.

Or I find a limestone crack
to call a cave
in which to crawl and sleep.

How silly of me to think
planting a flag on a hilltop
made the wilderness mine.

copyright © 2022 Kenneth P. Gurney

Wilderness Permit

Paul lifts a pail.
Pours icy water over his skyward face.

October bugle calls
punctuate twilight.

Along the rocky lake shore
a campfire takes shape.

Trout filets fry in a skillet
and something doughy like sloosh.

Dora looks so good
in shades of brown and khaki.

Pine smoke is her favorite

Even at its most quiet
nature does not pause

or rest content.
An owl appears above

on a branch.
Pierces a mouse on a bare spike.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Shattered Kind Of Sleep

Consciousness flickers
a black and white bird
from tree to tree.

Paul sinks to the ground
below a ponderosa
after staggering

a couple hundred yards
from his landing place
after a fall on granite.

Your sister comes to get you
repeats itself in his left ear
his right ear submerged in pine needles.

The ponderosa’s sap drips
There will be a tomorrow
upon his left cheek.

No one stands vigil.
Paul breathes in the shadows of dusk.
Night rotates the forest

and the mountain
back toward the clock-face sun.
Its cold light ricochets everywhere.

The stream works all shifts.
A big cat pads past him
being thirsty not hungry.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney


The trailhead plaque
warned of mountain lions
and bears.

A crow perched upon
the top of the plaque
cast dark shadows on the letters.

The presence of no one else
uninstalled the word intrepid
from my self-description.

I wondered if it was a good day to die.
I wondered if it was a good day
to catch a movie matinee instead.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

You Wonder Why I Am Not Home

I dropped my pants
in plain view of everyone watching.

There was no one watching.
I was in the wilderness.

I stood adjacent to the tree
that stopped my downward tumbling.

My tumbling started
when I forgot to pay attention.

The wisp of ice on the trail
gave me no warning.

Warning people is not part of ice’s
job description.

I dropped my pants
to be sure no leg bones were broken.

That proves my head hit the tree too
because when a femur breaks

it breaks out of its fleshy container
in a very messy no-standing-up manner.

The sun hurt my brain behind my eyes.
It was on its descent.

I began limping past the nausea.
The trail was mostly downhill

to the trailhead and the car
two point four miles away.

There was enough fresh blood
in the scrapes and cuts

to draw any animal with a good nose.
All predators have good noses.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney


In the forest
an idle car
the dew
that slips
past paint
into its dents
and dings
to spring
rust into life
so oxidation
may slowly
the steel
rimless tires
and upholstery
to be covered
by wind
blown dirt
and leaves
to the berry bushes
that grow
from the seeds
the wind
and birds
drop off
or others
in the nooks
and crannies.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


I need a ride.
I do not have time to walk.

No one answers my calls.
My smart phone does not know who is available.

There is Lyft.
But money remains scarce.

The walk will do me good.
It may tire me out before I reach her grave.

A walk usually sorts my emotions.
Walking meditation is better than driving meditation.

Meditation is better than medication.
Today I need big medicine, man.

No, her grave is not on the rez.
It is up in the mountains.

One of those small family boneyards.
Pioneers from long ago.

It is up among the aspens.
I trespassed on some old claim.

Added her ashes to the earth.
One foot north of Josiah’s headstone.

Josiah’s last name is lost to time.
His headstone is cracked and weather beaten.

Numbers state seventeen-ninety-nine-dash.
He was born on my birth month and day.

There are four other unreadable markers.
Lichen splotched stones outline the size of the yard.

Her ashes are under one of those stones.
I scratched her initials onto that stone.

She is neither in nor out of the pioneer boneyard.
The aspens migrated over the plot.

No trail leads up there.
I start where a stream passes under the road.

My feet always know their way through the wild
to those stones among the aspens.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney