Poem: One Mess at a Time

studio 6

One Mess at a Time

Yours is the art of the broken.
Always patching. Always aware
that nothing and no one is perfect,
least of all you, that all things
are in a state of constant repair
and readjustment, never quite
and likely to never be quite, and so
you paint, you write, you stumble
in public, one of the broken masses
only louder than most,
less willing to hide the cracks,
or perhaps only, less able.

You have no plan.
An age of plans have blown up in your face
time and time again, mocking
your presumption, finally able
to simply be, simply do,
less a creature of inspiration
than a plugger, stuck with
your inability to surrender,
a construction worker building happiness
one mess at a time.

About this poem

I have been in my art studio for just at a year now. The picture shows what I started with. It’s actually my favorite picture of the studio, mess and all, complete with the presumption, in the form of the sign on the table, that it would become more.

Now it is a working place, with tables and easels and a whole slew of half-finished work and paintings on the wall, always in a state of flux as my thoughts and work changes and grows, as I get things right and get things wrong.

It’s not a perfect studio. Not particularly photogenic. You’ll probably never see it in an issue of better homes and studios. But it’s mine. It’s me. Gloriously, loudly, imperfect.

This morning, I read an article about how the search for perfection kills the good. I’ve lived that one. Never again. Now, it’s just about progress. Growth. One step at a time. One day at a time. How did I grow today? What did I try? What did I risk? What can I learn from it all?

It’s a different life. At times harder and at times easier. But I am so much happier with it. At 64, I cannot recall being this close to happiness. And for a depressed guy, that’s a big statement.

A lot of that has to do with the woman I love. She is so honest, so real, so loving. Able to let me struggle and she shares her own, leaving me with no doubt, none at all, of the depth of her love.

And if we are mostly adult children (And I believe we are), that kind of total love is life-saving. Stumbling is never fatal. Grace lives.

Be well. Travel wisely,




  1. Tom, I love this poem and, maybe even more, your “About.” I’d love to see a photo of your studio as it exists today — see the space as you have transformed it into an expression of who you are — clutter and mess, lineality and focus, an image of the complex outworking of you…

    • I can’t see to attach pictures here to show the space now. Maybe it is a time for a studio update (I did several of them when I was transforming the space, on my Art of Tom Atkins blog.)

  2. I always appreciate your sharing “About this poem”
    You are blessed even though you have had grave struggles!
    Having a wife that is as special as yours makes the road you travel upon much easier!
    I really liked this poem!

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