James’s Book

One night, my oldest boy stands by my desk
And asks if he can write a book. Of course,
I tell him, What kind of story should it be?
He does not know, but soon, as from some source
Flowing through the depths of the earth, we see
A boy at a front door, a shadowy guest.

A trembling hand extends a folded note.
And late that night, the boy reads it in fear.
Days pass, he loads a pack with what he needs,
Till in the dark, his footsteps frighten deer
Away and bring him to a place of weeds
And stones in the old forest. This we wrote.

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And we wrote next his searching through the waste,
The flashlight burning blue on logs and moss,
As he brushed back thick leaves to look beneath.
Then his caked fingers felt it—the iron cross,
Rusty, jagged, and chill. He clenched his teeth
And dug the clay in which it was encased.

At last, then, in the insect thrumming dark,
He gripped it firm and twisted to the left,
Just as the note instructed. Ancient gears
Somewhere below, disturbed from their long rest,
Began to shift, the cross sprang up, and here
Opened the door its buried heft had marked.

What now? I say. He waits for me, unsure.
Dust rises on warm air from down below
But his light cannot reach what may lie there.
He must descend into the deep unknown
On a rough braided rope to find out where
The passage leads and what it holds in store.

That’s all we’ve got. I tell him we’ll need art
To fill out all the pages of our book.
“I’ll do it. I can draw the cross,” he says,
And you can tell from the warm, wavering look
That just to make that shape in crayon is
All he dares try, but he can’t wait to start.

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