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John Gurney: Traveling West
Part of the PoetryCircle Showcase series.
  • The Voodoo of Doll Shoes
    When she came home crying, I knew
    you were dead.

    at the market,
    I would pick up pot roasts,
    chickens, a bag of onions—
    and try to judge what 4 pounds
    9 ounces felt like.

    I closed my eyes
    constructing your fingers
    from cabbage leaves
    opening slowly,
    first one leaf, then another...

    I looked for a long time at
    miniature shoes
    doll shoes.

    Your feet could have
    stepped here,
    I think.

    So I steal them,
    take them home,
    and hide them
    in a shoe box that looks
    like a coffin.

    This way,
    no one will speak
    of you again.


    Wooden Spoons
    In the kitchen of the blacksmith
    there are only wooden spoons.

    His hand pauses to examine the sky
    silverware falters,
    tumbles from the clouds
    and rains across the cindered floor.

    Beyond this room
    the world remains
    flat or not...

    He questions physics
    the ability of butterflies
    to consume entire forests
    free of remorse
    their wings forming like red clay pots.

    a ballad he hears
    beside the patient shores,
    tules, cattails
    the slow laborious flight of a crane
    lifting from muddy stumps
    this too he carries to his hearth

    sheltered in a basket
    fine woven,
    silken as the breast of a goose
    whose body he will consume
    roasted with tubers
    and tasting like a prayer.


    The Best Night of Your Life
    I know that look,
    it is always the same.

    It was the same glance you gave
    to a cop in San Diego when he asked you for your ID
    outside the Toucan Bar,
    where, between the bars,
    precious birds dressed like girls
    danced in a metal cage as
    Iron Butterfly blasted Inagaddadavidda on the stereo.

    Yeah, I remember it.
    Maybe this was the best night of your life—
    right here, staring at the lights over San Diego Bay,
    it could be, you never know.

    In the hotel room,
    there was a board that ran across the alley to another room next door,
    and at three in the morning when the pounding came on the door,
    you made a break for the window,
    but were stopped short,
    because that asshole Jimmy could never keep his dick in his pants,
    and had really pissed somebody off now, namely,
    some big son of a bitch,
    who came bursting in waving a 38 in a torn t-shirt and greasy jeans,
    soaked in sweat and smelling
    like stale beer and fifty cent cigars.

    It all could have been that real you thought,
    and maybe never even remembered
    but you finally convinced him that Jimmy wasn’t there,
    so he left cursing Jimmy’s name,
    and yours too,
    and you spent the rest of the night just lying there
    in bed with an empty wine bottle in your hands for protection,
    because you knew the son of a bitch had to come back,
    Sundays sucked,
    everyone knew that,


    The Price Is Right
    I am in the kitchen cooking
    my wife is watching the "Price is Right"
    on TV. I try not to listen, but find myself drawn in.
    The contest has come down to
    two players.

    David is a retired aerospace engineer
    he owns a house in Phoenix
    and drove to L.A. in his Winnebago
    with his wife to celebrate
    their fiftieth anniversary.

    Bobby is younger, maybe 22, 23
    he works at Walmart
    stocking shelves
    some nights he goes to class
    at the junior college
    to learn electronics repair
    he lives in Fontana
    with his pregnant wife in an apartment.
    On the stage is a sailboat
    a beautiful boat
    polished and glistening
    you can smell the fresh paint
    and machine oil of the windless
    right through the screen.

    The boat is called a Hunter 23
    both men like the name
    it suggests the nature of their competition
    the fight for survival.

    David has already decided if he wins the boat
    he will name it "Gray Wolf"
    and dreams of long hours at Lake Havaseau
    observing young women in thong bikinis
    and drinking beer on the dock.

    Bobby has named the boat also.

    He has named it "Elsie"
    after his grandmother
    because he remembered
    how happy she was
    when she saw the ocean
    for the first time at 73.

    The men square off
    but of course
    it is David who wins the boat
    and Bobby who leaves
    with a case of Diet Pepsi.

    And it shouldn't bother me really
    because I know fate never plays fairly
    and I know the kid will be o.k.
    even without the sailboat
    but still I am sad.

    Later at the supermarket
    I park next to a Winnebago
    and opening my car door
    accidentally bang its chrome trim
    again, and again, and again.

    I like the sound it makes
    it reminds me of the way a boat sounds
    tapping against a pier.


    Poetic Terrorism
    I was standing in line at Kinko’s
    waiting to pay for copies
    when I noticed this woman with these beautiful art boards
    covering the counter like confetti.

    Wow, what beautiful work, I say.

    Thanks, they are illustrations for a children's book,
    getting ready to send them off to a publisher, the woman replies.
    She reaches out and pulls the work closer
    like guarding an infant
    fearful I will lash out
    like some psychopath you read about in the papers
    applying a mustache to the Mona Lisa with spray paint
    or tapping on the knee of Michaelangelo’s David
    with a rock hammer for souvenirs.

    Cool, I am a writer also. I say.

    Really, what do you write?

    Poetry, I reply...
    but it is too late
    there is nothing I can do
    as soon as the syllables drift from my lips
    I realize the magnitude of my sin.
    The woman moves closer, and places her hand on my shoulder.

    Have you talked to anyone about this? You know some people can be cured of it. They have drugs now, counseling, I had a girlfriend that was a poet, for years that’s all she would do. Sent her to a clinic finally, now all she writes is a gardening column for the local paper, and let me tell you, she was bad too!
    The woman jotted down a phone number on a Kinko’s sticky pad and shoved it into my hand.

    Call this man, he is a friend, I know he could help you.
    Thanks, I’ll do that I reply.

    Outside, I take out my magic marker
    and there across the windshield of her car , proclaim
    “Poetry isn’t dead, just in need of resurrection, call me, I will save you.”
    And I write her phone number

    Sometimes, even a poet gets pissed off -
    so I unzip my pants and pee on her tires.


    A Dream of Rabbits
    She calls me up
    from somewhere in Texas
    and talks to me about
    her husband who she likes
    but can’t live with,
    a job that she hates
    but can’t leave,
    and her son who is perfect really
    but not at home.

    I am not a student
    of geography,
    so she explains
    that Houston
    is sixty miles north of Galveston
    and the waters of the Gulf.

    In the Gulf,
    there are hurricanes
    that blow for days -
    terrible things
    that swirl and churn,
    no warning is sufficient,
    prepares you
    for what arrives,
    the devastation
    or loss.

    I know what it is like
    to be lost in storms,
    tossed like a leaf on a pond
    and praying for salvation.
    Some nights
    faith alone
    is all that allows
    for survival.

    I consider this now,
    my dog sleeping warm
    at my feet,
    barking softly,
    cats maybe, I think,
    a dream of rabbits.


    Recalling the Death of a Child
    All that winter
    we hardly spoke at all

    It was as if a great Nor Easter
    had blown in
    and stolen all the sound
    from our lives

    until all that remained
    was that one dark pine
    rustling still
    against the tired house
  • John Gurney says this is his favorite bio:


    You will be asked to provide a short biography of yourself
    no more than 5 lines.

    Do not mention the arrests for drunken driving.
    Leave out the night you crashed your car into a cement wall.
    Deny all knowledge of past lovers - living or dead.

    Such editing is necessary in any life,
    you know this well.

    Poets are not welcome anywhere,
    there lives must reflect this.

    Your biography should be simple, yet profound:
    “I was raised by a family ferrets, who, while good providers, never understood my artistic temperament.”

    At 15 I was arrested for shoplifting a copy of Crime and Punishment. Later, I would point out to the prosecutor how I believed any work by Dostoyevsky was not worth reading unless it was stolen. That there was a literary imperative for such crimes.
    I was always misunderstood.

    Can any great work come from someone who is sexually aroused by a cartoon figure? I consider this thought , as Betty bends over to pick up Bam Bam from the floor.

    They want to know where I was born. Why? If I was born in East Orange, NJ, will my poetry be more profound than if I was born in Des Moines?

    I complete my application and send it off, along with 5 of my selected poems.

    I lick the stamp, and watch as the envelope disappears into anonymity.

    Welcome to America.
  1. Anna Ruiz
    Your Letter of Introduction is enabling.  Who was it written by?  Gremlins you fed after midnight?  

    Your poetry, however sucks eggs.  

    p.s. Are you married?
  2. Obed Ladiny
    You have colloquial style which invites. Thanks.
  3. tiko lewis
    congrats, John!
    John Gurney likes this.
  4. Jenn Zed
    Great to see some of your work put together, John.
    John Gurney likes this.
  5. Michael Ashley
    John I love this collection...  Really nice work man.
    John Gurney likes this.
  6. TrishSaunders
    Stunning poems. Nice presentation, Mike.
    John Gurney likes this.
  7. Cheryl.Leverette
    John Gurney likes this.