Souvenir (A Poem)

I do forget from time to time
That I’m a poet in my heart.

I hone my craft. I work and train
Until my words become a job;
Until taletelling’s commonplace
And then I lose sometimes the why.

But then I watch my children laugh
Or my wife takes my hand in hers
Or I climb in a plane and soar
And watch a sunrise over clouds.

I do forget from time to time…
But poetry remembers me.

The Golden Age (a poem)

“She’s got a rule. She never dates her friends.”
“I know,” he said. “I really hate that rule….”

She keeps it, though, and she is all alone.
Alone at home, at work when it gets bad.
There’s trouble in the air, has been for years,
Then something breaks one quiet afternoon
At a presidential speech.
A kid is killed, and soon it’s on the news
And riots follow, cities start to burn.
There’s soldiers in the streets, and all too soon
There’s bombs.
And she is all alone.

She goes back to a place she once called home,
To friends who all among them made her world
And quietly they watch this world burn down.
All huddled up, squeezed tight on that sad couch
In his tiny apartment, second floor,
And wonder what the future holds in store.

For days it’s dazed and frightened disbelief.
At night their only light is CNN.
Then Dave hears that his boss has got a plan
The governor needs him to craft a speech
A bold address to set the city right
And bring back hope and reason, end the fight.
They go — these four, these friends, these college buds.
They’re kids, but they’ve been called to save the world
And only one has doubts — in that, she’s all alone.

More bombs in store, more death than they could guess
But through it all, he holds them to the course.
He’s brave for her — he saves the day for her —
But in the end they all are heroes true.
Here in the quiet Heartland, they wake up.
They face a dragon, slay a villain dark,
And live storybook lives in too-real life.

But then it’s done. It’s done, and they’re all safe,
But her mother back home is so afraid.
Her dad is, too, and asks her to come back.
To leave her friends, and come back to her home.
And hero though he is, her friend, she’s got a rule.
So she goes home, to grander stories yet….

And she is all alone.

Sad Little Cloud (a poem)

In perfect honesty there have been times
When I wanted to say, “That’s it! I’m done.”
Too tired, too exhausted by your grief,
And suffering in the shadow of your pain.
You’ve hurt, and yes I know that hurt was real
(And no, my happy life cannot compare)
But all your misery is wasted time —
A gift to grief, withheld from those you love.
You’re so much more than tragedy.

You’ve never known a perfect life at home —
No gentle father-man to wrap you up,
No shining beacon Mom, so pure and true,
No happy Christmas photo family.
And then, your spirit’s been betrayed by flesh —
When your own mind became the enemy,
When reason could not conquer cruel thoughts,
When friends and lovers could not understand.
You’re so much more than tragedy.

I’ve seen you try and try to prove that true —
To live a normal life, to make it work
When whispered voices swear it’s wasted time.
“You’ll never live the picture postcard life.”
They’re right. But don’t believe the worst of it.
You’re destined to far more than normal gives.
I’ve seen you shine, seen miracles firsthand
But you lament the things you cannot do.
You’re so much more than tragedy.

I know you want perfection and no less.
I know you’ve tasted bitter, cruel fate.
I know you’ve lost more dearly than you’ve made.
I know how hard you work so you won’t cry.
But people fall in love with this sad cloud.
They gather to your dark like moths to flame.
Not for the shade, but for the light you hide —
Deprive to those who’d give their lives to you.
You’re so much more than tragedy.

Be more. Be more. And every day be more.
Find paths that bring you out into the light,
Find dreams that make you smile, that make you hope,
Find friends who cheer, and tales that tell you truth.
And look for truth — for happy truth no less.
Look for the shinning light that draws them in,
Look for the you that made me write this verse,
And get to know that person like I do.
You’re so much more than tragedy.

September Seventeen (a poem)

You’re Alexander, son.
You’re born, you’re named, you’re blessed to be a king.
It’s up to you to choose where you end up,
But already you’ve conquered hearts, and bent some lives to you–
At two weeks old.

You’re Alexander, son.
You’re stronger than you ought to be, but only just begun.
There’s power in your name and mighty destiny bestowed,
And world enough for you to shape your dreams
And make them real.

You’re Alexander, son.
I’ve known your name for decades. Since I was a boy myself
I’ve known I’d shake your hand, and look you in the eye
And teach you how to cope, or hope — to break or make the world,
And trust in God.

You’re Alexander, son.
With riches already in store, the wealth of nations at your hand
In all the loving wisdom of your friends — a hundred friends
All waiting, all breathless, on that first day when you were born.
Yours to the end.

You’re Alexander, son.
And you could conquer states, or you could light unrighteous dark,
Could tame some scary wilderness we don’t yet know exists,
Or live a quiet, happy life at home. It matters not.
We will love you.

My Tens of Thousands

I’m an observant person. I’m introspective and extrapolative. I spend a lot of time thinking about how the world really is, and how that information should affect my decisions. I call this careful consideration my “governing intellect” — not that it does a ton of governing. It ends up being more a source of guilt (that I don’t follow my reason) than a helpful tutor. But still, I sometimes heed its advice — and sometimes to my own detriment.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, the Lord said to my governing intellect, “Come and sit by my side.” I’m not a proud man. I went and I sat. The man had some interesting things to say.

I have always lived a charmed life. This has manifested in mundane ways (a happy, prosperous family environment, an upbringing with a strong emphasis on education, and an inborn talent with the written word), and in ways mystical (I’ve never lost real money in a game of poker).

I’ve long recognized this effect in my life, and rarely taken it for granted. I remember reading the Odyssey early in high school and recognizing an easy familiarity with Odysseus, beloved of Athene. He was clever and careful, but even so, he had help. Things ever fell his way. So also with me.

In our own lore there’s another like him, and I’ve also often compared myself to King David. Chosen and blessed, set apart to do great things, I had nothing to fear from even the mightiest of enemies. That became my refrain. I can’t count the times I’ve whispered under my breath, “Lord, let me pass unseen through the camp of my enemies.”

He took me aside recently, though, and reprimanded me. That has been too much my attitude. When a university-level teaching job fell into my lap — money we sorely needed and an opportunity many people invest years of their lives just to apply for — I spent days and weeks and months just worrying, just hoping that I could survive. I just wanted to get through it, hopefully without drawing any attention to myself, and make it to December in one piece.

Oh humble yes, he said, but humble son of God!

There is so much more to David than the slinking thief, discreetly hemming his king’s old cape. An heir is made not just to survive, but to reign. I’ve spent years hiding in my dirty cave, with nary an adversary on the plains below. Anointed and appointed, spending all my gracious charms on nervous getting by, when my role is so much greater. I should be capturing cities to swell my empire. I should be conquering to preserve my name, and to lift up the names of my sons. I’ve spent long enough as a shepherd, I should long since have become a king.

That failing is on me. The opportunities to rise up are always there — served up to me on royal finery, and squandered in my timidity even as I proclaim that I’m trembling in fear of the Parable of the Talents. The Lord said to my governing intellect, “Come and sit by my side, and we’ll make cautious reason our footstool, because there are far more interesting things going on than your boring old reality.”

I can’t wait to see my Jerusalem.

Ghost Targets as Formula Fiction

I’ve had several conversations with people about my Ghost Targets series, and along the way I’ve surprised a couple of them by talking about the structure of these novels. Because it’s consistent — it’s a known value. I aim for a 60,000 word novel, which is relatively light reading. I try to do fifteen 4,000-word chapters, divided evenly into three “acts”: the setup or “teaser,” the confrontation, and then the resolution. They’re built on the “cop drama” framework, which is pretty much the same as the generic Mystery formula, but without some of the stylistic flourishes you’d expect in a whodunnit.

When I start talking like that — when I say, “I’ve got a story idea” and then I immediately know what parts of the plot will fall on which page numbers — a lot of people get this look of disappointment in their eyes, like somehow I’m playing Mad Gab now instead of actually writing new stories. But, y’know, I’ve thought about it a lot, and here’s my answer to that thinking:

It all depends on what you mean when you say “formula.” There’s nothing wrong with form, like with the pre-set shape of a haiku, or how Shakespeare’s sonnets always conform to one framework (with three quatrains and then a rhyme). The books in Katie’s story are the same. The quality is only in the content, not how fresh the font or far between the chapter breaks.

But yes, she lives and solves the crime, and often talks with Door who cannot tell her where he is, but gives the key detail. And…leaves you wanting more.

The coolness lies in character and plot. Forget the frame — ask is it good, or not?

Sinful Saint (a poem)

I’ve heard you —
full of spirit, right with God —
In reverence and deep humility
Say, “I am just a sinful child
Made clean by God’s good love.”

I’ve heard you whisper hope to hurt
and help to those in need.
I’ve seen you shine
and shape the world
with faith.

But life is long
and comfort short
and sharp the Tempter’s sting.
So time to time you’ll trip and fall,
or turn and walk away.
Time to time you’ll come to earth
and leave Heaven behind.
Time to time you’ll gutter
let your flame almost go out.
And then you tremble, full of fear so far from God.

But I am not afraid.
I’m not ashamed, I’m not surprised.
From time to time you fall, as do we all.
But nothing you could do —
no angry word, no selfish choice, no foolish indiscretion —
There’s nothing in your power to make untrue
The words you knew with confidence before.
From time to time, from day to day,
No matter where along your way
The best and worst you’ll ever say
Is “I am just a sinful child
Made clean by God’s good love.”

Don’t be surprised. Don’t be ashamed.
Don’t ever be afraid.
Your God forgives, and that is why you call him Lord.

My Little Girl (a poem)

Sometimes I dream of what you’ll be,
My little girl, my precious heart,
So many things for you to see
In this big life you’ve yet to start.

I think you’ll be adorable,
Your happy smile, your eyes so wide,
And anything is possible
For you, who fill my heart with pride.

I hope you’ll be a brilliant one
But there’s so much to understand.
Too soon you’ll crawl and walk and run.
Just know I’m there to hold your hand.

I pray that you’ll have common sense,
Be blessed with health and grow up strong.
Be full of quiet confidence
And joy that drives you all day long.

I know that you’ll be dear to me
No matter how your life may go.
My little girl, with heart so free,
I’ll help you live and love and grow.

Dedication: A Prayer

Before she had a name, she was a hope,
A dream, a prayer breathed in her mother’s heart.
Before she had a name, she had our love
And all the family she’d ever need.
Before she had a name, sweet Annabelle,
We loved her more than any words could tell.

She has her father’s cheeks, her mother’s ears,
Her precious little features oh-so-cute.
She has her father’s nose, her mother’s eyes
That shine when new, exciting life delights.
She has her father’s chin, her mother’s smile,
And every little bit is beautiful.

Now every day, we face these little fears
As she falls down, or any time she cries.
Now every day, we watch the things she does,
Amazed how fast our little girl has grown.
Now every day, we wonder what she’ll be,
What great works by her hand this world will see.

Our god and king, our lord, give her wisdom
And sight enough to learn from her mistakes.
Our god and king, our lord, give her your grace.
Teach kindness, patience, truth, and charity.
Our god and king, our lord, give her your care.
Protect her, and remind her you are there.

In your son’s name, and through his gift we pray,
Wash Annabelle with your love, all her days.