WeWriWa—A poem for the birthday boy


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. I thought last week would be my last excerpt from my alternative history, And Aleksey Lived, for awhile, but I remembered today, 12 August, would’ve been my protagonist’s 114th birthday.

These are the concluding lines of the 530-word freeverse poem which opens the book. When I wrote it in November 2014, there were tears streaming down my face. That poem is quite possibly the most emotional thing I’ve ever written.

No one will ever know now what might’ve been.
No one ever does.
That’s what’s so haunting and heartbreaking about the death of anyone in the prime of life.
But in my beautiful dream,
he earned his place in history as Tsar Aleksey the Savior.
The forces of good and light defeated the forces of evil and darkness.
And in real life,
before Alyosha died,
Alyosha lived.
To the dead we owe honesty, respect, love, dignity,
for kindness to the dead can never be repaid
and could never have an ulterior motive.
Most of all,
we must remember the dead as they were in life,
for the fact that they lived,
not that they died.
And Aleksey lived.


A poem for Alyosha

I’m really close to winning my very first NaNoWriMo, but I decided to go back to the beginning and start with one of my freeverse poems. It’s been awhile since I’ve seriously written any freeverse poetry. This wasn’t about padding out my word count so close to the finish line, but feeling this really works to set the mood and give meaning to the entire story. I was emotionally gutted as I was writing it; you don’t have to tell me I’m far too sensitive for my own good.

FYI: Tsesarevich is the correct word for the firstborn son of a Tsar, in spite of the more general Tsarevich being more widely known in the English-speaking world. I’m pretentious like that, the same reason I use accent marks on Russian words and names in my ultra-purist transliteration style.


Alekséy Nikoláyevich Románov,

the last tsesarevich of Russia,

the boy who never became Tsar,

the sickly child who slowly became stronger,

with fewer injuries as he got older,


thirteen years,

eleven months,




That’s not a full life.

Not even half a life.

A beautiful, innocent child just starting to become a young man,

frozen in time,

forever thirteen,

robbed of his life for the crime of having been born royalty

to the wrong parents

at the wrong time

in the wrong place.

The soulless murderer

saw only someone from the ruling class

who deserved to be shot down like a wild animal

unworthy of life

not a beautiful boy who had barely lived.

How do you pack an entire lifetime of experiences and memories into only thirteen years,

eleven months,

six days?

So many lessons yet to learn,

experiences yet to have,

books yet to read,

music yet to hear,

films yet to see,

a first love never to have,

children never to be born,

the experience of a grown-up lover denied,

so much love, compassion, intelligence, strength yet to give and develop.

He could’ve beaten the odds and lived into adulthood,

found the love of a compassionate Tsarítsa who loved and accepted him just as he was,

fathered healthy heirs,

become Russia’s most modern, enlightened, belovèd Tsar,

his whole reason for ruling shaped by love and compassion,

his memories of suffering,

the eternal outsider looking in,

forced into a quiet, interior life of the mind

to preserve his precarious life as long as possible.

But instead,

the forces of evil decided he must die

in the most horrific way possible

even denied dignity in Death

dumped in the woods


hacked up

doused with gasoline and sulphur

the location of his remains known only to God for ninety years

still denied a funeral.

How can someone who only lived thirteen years,

eleven months,

six days

have ever done anything so abominable he deserved that?

But I decided he must live.

So many decades later,

this beautiful, innocent boy,

from the other world,

lodged himself in my heart and soul,

haunting me,

whispering to me,

compelling me to give him the happy ending he was denied in this lifetime,

entrusting me with the belief that he would’ve become a wonderful Tsar,

an exceptional adult man,

someone full of strength, compassion, love,

who would’ve beaten so many other people’s dire what-if predictions and lived well into adulthood.

No one will ever know now what might’ve been.

No one ever does.

That’s what’s so haunting and heartbreaking about the death of anyone in the prime of life.

But in my beautiful dream,

he earned his place in history as Tsar Alekséy the Savior.

The forces of good and light defeated the forces of evil and darkness.

And in real life,

before Alyosha died,

Alyosha lived.

To the dead we owe honesty, respect, love, dignity,

for kindness to the dead can never be repaid

and could never have an ulterior motive.

Most of all,

we must remember the dead as they were in life,

for the fact that they lived

and not that they died.

And Alekséy lived.

Cheersfest for Arlee Bird

Cheersfest 2013

Following the success of last year’s Cheers, Cavanaugh roast, the tradition is continuing this year with Arlee “Lee” Bird, founder of the April A to Z Challenge and a prolific blogger. Once again, the hosts are Mark KoopmansMorgan ShamyDavid Powers KingStephen Tremp, and Ninja Captain Alex.

Lee will choose two winners to receive:

  • An autographed color photo of Arlee Bird appearing as the Court Wizard in the World of Fantasy Players. Also included in the first prize pack are an assortment of promotional materials from Lee’s show biz days with a personal letter and a brief history of his entertainment career.
  • A personalized blog graphics design from Jeremy at Being Retro. (Jeremy will design a header, badge, button, banner, or whatever might appeal to the winner.)

Participants simply answer four questions in no more than 20 words each, and write a flash fiction of 100 words or less, using the words

  • Bird
  • Juggler
  • Challenge
  • Brown Jacket
  • Tossing


  • Why did Lee come up with the A-Z Challenge?

As a way to meet other bloggers, and motivate others to regularly find something to blog about.

  • If someone dreams about being a juggler, what does it mean?

Successfully, your life is in balance. If objects drop, we may be juggling more responsibilities than we should be.

  • Is a post by Mr. Bird worth two in the bush?

It sure is.

  • Who could play Lee in a documentary? (Living or dead.)

W.C. Fields


I decided to make my flash piece a freeverse past life poem, which I haven’t done in years. The only time I ever touch first-person present tense is when I write as Oda.

Returning to the world of the living
is a challenge.
At times I feel like a juggler,
constantly forced to balance so many things
and surrounded by people
who do not understand.
No amount of words can ever transmit
the scents, the sounds, the sights, the tastes, the emotions.
If only I could be like a bird, flying free outside, unencumbered by pain and suffering.
Give me time to transition back to a world that will never be ordinary again.
Or will I be forever tossing about, a species apart,
huddled in a brown jacket’s symbolic embrace?


For Bonus Points:

  • In +/- 40 words, can you come up with a caption for Lee’s Facebook picture?


A vintage picture of a dapper juggler, appearing to be from the Seventies or early Eighties. He looks very pleased with his juggling abilities.


Unrelated but important post-script:  On this day in 1979, nine days before I was born, the World Health Organisation declared smallpox eradicated. I’m so thankful my lifetime has never included this frightening disease, and hope to God it never finds a way to come back. Hopefully polio will be next to be eradicated, followed by diseases that were all but eliminated in the West until a certain science-denialist cult arose 10-15 years ago.

Second Campaigner Challenge (Three for the price of one)

Rachael Harrie’s Second Campaigner Challenge of her Fourth Platform-Building Campaign is a bit of a challenge. There are one text prompt and four picture prompts, and a number of different ways to do the challenge. One can write a pitch or logline for a book, write an unconventional poem, write a flash fiction piece of under 200 words, write a 5-sentence story, or write a poem or flash fiction piece describing one of the pictures without using key identifying words. For an added challenge, one may complete at least three of the challenges and tie them together with a theme, write in a genre one doesn’t normally do, and ask for a writing critique.

I was originally starting out with a flash fiction piece starting with the picture of kids in a garbage heap, during the first day my character Clementine Kevorkian (one of Cinnimin and Violet’s mutual granddaughters, born 1987) has in Nepal during her time in the Peace Corps (which would start in 2009). Then I realized it wasn’t going in the direction of a self-contained piece of microfiction, but read more like just part of a much longer scene, so I picked another of my characters to write the flash fiction about. Then I went back and used Clementine’s story for the 5-sentence story. For the poem, I decided to try my hand at writing a freestyle haiku.

My first story shows Jakob DeJonghe and his friend Dries Quackenboss in Holland during WWII, while they’re still just partisan fighters, probably sometime in 1944, which would make Jakob about 18. Jakob, a survivor of Westerbork, leapt from a train taking him and his mother to Poland, and landed so hard on his right ankle that he got himself a limp. He was found by Dries and three other young men in the partisans, nursed back to health, and accepted into their ranks after his recovery, even in spite of having a limp. In early 1945, Jakob and his friends are made official soldiers in the Princess Irene Brigade of the Dutch Free Forces, and Jakob earns the rank of a lieutenant, eventually rising to Major. After the liberation of Holland, they’re sent to fight the Japanese in the Dutch East Indies. By the time Jakob is honorably discharged, he’s been awarded a Bronze Lion and an Order of Orange Nassau. Dries and two of their friends receive the Order of William, the oldest and highest honor of Holland.


Jakob leaned against the rusty excuse of a support system for the bombed-out concrete bridge, his hair wet from sweat.  At least this time it was Dries and not Jakob who’d injured his leg.  Jakob didn’t know what he’d do if he hurt his gimpy leg again, or if he injured his left leg and had no stronger leg left.

“I don’t even know what cut me,” Dries gasped as Jakob liberally doused his wound with iodine. “I didn’t see any sharp objects or glinting metal when we were digging through the remains of that traitorous NSBer’s house.  All I was expecting to find were incriminating documents, money, stuff we could use.”

Jakob’s gaze drifted upwards. “Only a few years ago Emilia and I were playing kickball on top of the bridge.  I can still see my little sister in her shiny new red coat, running to kick the ball back to me.  Then after we got home our mother served candied pears to us on fancy wooden spoons.”

Dries fanned the iodine over his wound to try to get it to dry quicker and stop stinging, then pulled out his kaleidescope. “At least these patterns will distract me.”


Watching half-dressed ragamuffins digging through a garbage heap was not Clementine’s idea of a welcome to her Peace Corps assignment in Nepal.  They’d never known a carefree childhood like she and her siblings, had never just played ball on a beautiful promenade overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  Nor had they probably eaten healthy food like pears, apples, oranges, or tempeh.  As she followed her team leader to her new living quarters, she averted her eyes from two more children sitting under a partly-collapsed bridge, one of the children with a rather serious leg wound.  She could hardly wait for nightfall, when she’d be able to use her new portable telescope, a college graduation present from her gadget-loving uncle Robert, so she could gaze up at the beautiful, peaceful galaxies and try to forget she’d been stationed in the slums of Nepal.


Kaleidescope pear

Garbage heap under a bridge

Boy chases a ball