A King’s Ransom

There once was a king who ruled his kingdom with a strong and even hand. He was as firm with his sons as he was with his servants and subjects. Justice was pronounced swiftly but surely in his court, punishment meted out in the strictest sort of confidence, unswayed by doubtful cries of innocence or desolate pleas for mercy. Rebellion was unthought of, or if thought, and spoken aloud, quickly dispelled by the king’s strong and even hand.

All this changed, though, when the king died, leaving his entire kingdom in the hands of his eldest son, a stupid and silly man whose only virtue was that he didn’t know a thing about a king’s strength, and still less about a king’s justice.

– MWP 2011

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Elegy for Alan

We weep for you,
asleep on the sand,
awash in the tears of God.

– MWP 2015

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Bookish

Malcolm loved The Book Nook, that rambling, rickety bookstore on West Second Street.

It was something about the smell, that universal book smell: crisp and crackly with a hint of dusty wisdom and just a touch of unexpected spice, like musky vanilla. And the sounds: all that silence echoing provocatively around the swish of pages turning, the occasional cough or muted conversation, the rasp of a chair on the hardwood floor.

And of course the books. Old books, new books, bestsellers, classics, cheap books, leather-bound rare books—it didn’t matter. Books beckoned him higher up and further in, worlds unending, whole worlds unexplored.

The coffee shop in the front corner was a bonus. As was the brunette barista with the mischievous smile, the kind that makes you think there’s more to the story than a mere blurb might suggest.

– MWP 2012

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Newtown, Connecticut

Life is made of little things:
a daughter’s smile, a lover’s kiss,
the whispered word of warm embrace—
trifles, weighted down with grace.

– MWP 2012

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Lost in the Music

The music overtook him, as it always did. It played him like a well-worn guitar, like a drum notched and bruised from the beating. It plucked and pulled and picked him, buzzing him with its intoxicating rhythm, humming him with its heaven-spent rhyme, its melody and harmony ransacking his soul. And then it dumped him, flopped all spent, on the floor of his piano bench, hands draped on the keyboard, head lolling forward.

There was silence. Not a cough, not a word, not a scrape of a chair on the hard wooden floor. A full minute passed before he lifted his head, and pushed his sagging body into a wavering, upright stance.

Then the applause came. Like ocean waves it came, rolling in with the tide of pent-up emotion that swelled through the old hall. They stood up, one after another after another, standing together in reverence, in comprehensive awe.

The soldiers stepped forward then, their swastikas emblazoned in crimson on their sleeves, and the ragged pianist was pulled, limping, from the stage, the final glimpse a yellow star.

– MWP 2012

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Love’s Sweet Kiss

A heart holds out against the storm,
battens down hatches in violent sea.
Waves piling on waves, pounding waves;
sheets of icy rain in arctic wind,
slicing through slick surface, sinking deep inside.

Until, unchecked by cold, by bitter freeze,
love’s sweet kiss comes,
breathing warmth and saving grace—
mercy, grace and mercy—
pressing gently, softly, in flaming tenderness.

– MWP 2011

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The Wood between the Worlds

Alex stood up from the table, the bills and figures left in piles, taunting. Stretching his hands above his head, he willed the hunch from his body. He walked to the window, where the sun peered in through the shadow-casting trees.

It was no use. No amount of stretching or sunshine could shake the burden from his mind. The anxiety gnawed at him, chewing away at his thoughts, spitting out worry upon worry.

There was movement in the shadows then, and from the depths of sunlight a small form bounded toward him, oblivious to his watching eyes. It was his daughter, Olivia, skipping nimbly among the bending branches.

She stopped. Turning back toward the sunshine, she opened her arms wide, as if she could embrace the trees, the sky, the sun. Then, leaning forward, hands outstretched, she began to sing. Spontaneous, disjointed, nonsensical: the words and melody caught between them a joy unbounded, deep and raw.

Alex pressed his hands to the window, bent his head to the glass, and wept.

– MWP 2012

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Rocky Mountains

I hold the hands of those who climb, so slowly,
bearing unbearable burdens of lilting life,
together, stumbling to distant sky, so high.
The path before us winds, it turns in strife,
until at last the vista wins, most holy.

God stands before us: divine power,
nature, clearly seen by all with ears
to hear the music swirling everywhere.
We stand unspeaking, left with only tears
to say what must be said, confessed, this hour.

Air, sweet and clean and icy smooth—
intoxicating freshness, a toxic lightness of being
free and open in a world of ordinary beauty.
Light, infusing stone and growing green—
a glowing aura, a good and gracious truth.

– MWP 2011

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West of Eden

The coulees look just like I remember them, yellow-brown and flowing in the relentless west wind. They dip and curve, cutting through long grasses and juttings of coal-dust dirt, down, down to the slow-flowing Old Man River.

We never got to the river, me and my friend. We got stuck in the time-warp of the coulees’ twists and bends: heroes of the past, warriors of the future, explorers in some far-flung galaxy.

On good days we would start out early. We would get supplies at the local convenience store, stocking up on all the necessary provisions young boys need: licorice, pop rock candy, a cream soda slush. Then the trek to our most treasured place, a deep gorge impossibly furnished with trees and bushes and a trickle of a stream. Epic battles of will were fought there; the fates of entire civilizations rested in our hands. The gorge was our oasis, our Eden, our raison d’être for a glorious afternoon.

I still remember the day we emerged from the coulees toward the river, and looked down on manicured greens colonized by grown men with clubs in their hands, their flags planted as if in conquest, a declaration of a war we knew we could not win.

– MWP 2014

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From the Burning Bush

I was not meant for this,
this ranting, raging violence,
this holy, haughty silence,
this hoarding of benevolence.

I send the rain for all,
the air, the warming sun,
the earth, the river’s run,
the ocean’s deep ablution.

I am the one within,
above, below, beyond,
before, and now, and on,
among the hidden ones,
among the little ones,
among the lost and weeping ones.

– MWP 2014

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