Free Verse

First Place

J. Bruce Ashton was a college music professor for 50 years who now lives in active retirement and continues to teach, perform, and create with both words and tones.

(Psalm 90:4; Romans 8:22)

Earth, close your eyes.
Rest your weary bones.
You may sleep a thousand years tonight.

No Abel-blood to stain your pristine vesture.
Nor shriek nor moan of rack-mounted, thumb-hung victim.
No stench of quivering martyr-flesh charring over its pyre.
Absent the taste of napalm flung in your face
and the fresh, raw abrasions of strip mines, the sting of acid rain.

Earth, close your eyes.
Rest your weary bones.
You have received double for all their sins.

Forty days of downpour and upsurge,
casting loose your tectonic plates to grind out later tsunamis,
gulping down primeval forests to power behemoths of business 4,000 years hence.
Staying your axial spin to allow Pharaoh’s migrating exlaborforce a crucial victory,
even backpedaling without protest to reassure an ailing monarch.

And then He came.
You cherished the pad-padding of His sandaled feet,
cradled His ache-weary form as He slept—and prayed,
even gave back His friend Lazarus from your bosom
(How many dead does one earth need to shelter, anyway?).
When they killed Him, you retched,
spewing out legions of the holy dead, revivified to herald His gigantic victory.
And when His toes lifted from your skin, it wasn’t to have been this long—was it?—until . . .

Sleep comes hard when everything is so disheveled, I know.
All your joints are askew,
your gaping cave-mouths gagged with mountain-crumbs,
your oceans wantonly ignoring His “thus far and no farther” sea-marks.
Vast unburied squadrons of the rebel’s followers,
himself and his allies berating each other through the terrifying darkness.
But you’ve borne your curse “for man’s sake” bravely; you’ve earned repose.
Close your eyes.
Rest your weary bones.

For morning comes apace, and you’ll want to be refreshed for the endless, exuberant “rest of the story.”
After a score of half-centuries idling in your orbit,
He will come—a third time, no less!—and then,
after one last brief hour of ultimate folly,
the healing, cleansing, purifying fire,
purging away piling and pipeline, cable and deep-well punctures.
From your shaken core and your jumbled, formless void,
He can craft Paradise anew— and He will!
And you will come forth, as once before, fit to host beauty, unity, perfection, love unendingly.
“And God Himself will dwell with them—” your restored wholeness will be His eternal home!

Earth, close your eyes.
Rest your weary bones.
You may sleep a thousand years tonight.

Second Place

Ida T. Ronaszegi teaches the art of Composition and Rhetoric at Savannah Technical College, and has a passion for Prayer and Women’s Ministries. With her husband, Arpad, she runs a creative studio in Bluffton, South carolina.

Our daughter’s words and the Lord’s words from Jeremiah 45:4, 5, NKJV.*

She said,

I’m trying not to forget
our old house,
my room, my window
with the blue blinds,

the hiding place we’d built
with the cushions of the old beige sofa—

What I have built
I will break down,

I’m trying not to forget
our fort in the backyard
on top of the lowly apple tree with small sour apples
we picked and nibbled the beginning of each summer—

What I have planted
I will pluck up,

I’m trying not to forget
the kittens and their moms
underneath our deck
that, Daddy, you said we should not feed
but you knew we would because they were hungry
and you wouldn’t want Grizzly, Tiger, Puzzles, and Snowball
to go hungry. Especially Ears, whose lobes the winter frost
had bitten off—

I will pluck up,
that is, this whole land,

I’m trying not to forget
the ravine with the wild, stubborn grapevines
that never produced grapes
only pain for you, Daddy, trying
to get rid of them.
In the ravine I buried Chippie
the chipmunk because he died
of a wound, and I wrapped him
in one of Mommy’s kitchen towels she let me use.

But I will give
your life to you
as a prize
in all places,
wherever you go.

I’m trying not to forget.

* Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Third Place

Eunice Fisher is the mother of three grown children and writes from Perryton, Texas.

They both dreamed of owning a castle.
They both wanted a view.
Of course they would both build by the sea.

Wisdom chose a foundation of
flinty rock,
beautiful, firm and solid.
Folly chose a foundation of
glistening sand,
beautiful, soft and golden.

The house on the sand
was built to impress.
Though all dark within,
spearlike spires
and globelike domes
gleamed in the sun.

The house on the rock
was built to endure.
Beams from within
brightened all around,
for its inner glory
reflected the Son.

With the night a storm thundered in—
a roaring lion seeking its prey,
pouncing, clawing at
quivering castle hearts.

Rain streamed down in torrents.
Winds howled, waves crashed,
towers toppled, turrets tumbled,
weak walls crumbled
and slid toward a tryst with the undertow.

Its fury spent,
the tempest scurried away.
Pounding surf and crashing waves
morphed into a lullaby.

From her lofty home
atop chisel-hewn stone,
Wisdom looked out at the scene,
at the graceful curve
of the windswept beach
that cradled a quiet sea.

So peaceful.
So beautiful.
So . . . empty.

Third Place
Gray Is a Color,Too

Andrew Hanson is an emeritus professor of Education at California State University, Chico. He and his wife, Claudia, have three children and seven grandchildren.

Heavenly Father,

On this blustery, rainy, winter morning
Remind us that gray is a color, too
Of Sunrise
Clouds that bring needed rain
The breasts of doves
The fur of kittens
Rail fences along country roads
Smoke from chimneys
A favorite coat

Remind us that gray is the color, too
Of wisdom
Life’s mysteries
Difficult choices

Father of us all, help us to remember that gray is a color, too
as we face our individual winters of the soul
Times when the warming sunshine of Your love
does not penetrate our clouds.


Third Place

Eunice Fisher is the mother of three grown children and writes from Perryton, Texas.

I don’t know exactly why I left.
One minute I was present,
frolicking and feasting with the flock,
the next I was battling the bramble bush.

True, the humdrum pasture fare,
so ho-hum, same old, same old,
was dull and dry
while verdant, tempting blades
beckoned from far-off lea.

Heeding long my restlessness,
shaggy old rams tried hard to warn—
though spears look green,
they are not always good.
Long, fearsome tales they spun
of what befell all those who strayed.
But, reasoned I, though evil it may be,
what harm a tiny, teensy nip?

Off I went. No backward glance.
Watchful ewes took worried note,
blathering in vain.
I knew they’d tell the Shepherd,
and I didn’t even care.

Then I felt myself fall,
thick briars clutching at my coat.
My pitiful baas, far from listening ovine ears,
fell unheard on frigid air,
and I grew numb with bitterness.

How long I struggled,
without help, without hope,
I do not know.
I was lost and I would die,
a wasted wandering wretch.

And then—and then—
I sensed the Shepherd near.
Cowering, expecting His wrath,
I waited
for condemning words
that never came.

His hands did not recoil
as gently He applied the balm of mercy
to heal my loathsome wounds.

Now, secure upon His shoulders,
I marvel at His love,
thankful that we’ll journey home

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