Poem: Dust on the Clocks

Dust on the Clocks

Three clocks stand on the mantle.
Four generations of time keepers
stand still.

The mantle clock with it’s graceful wooden arch
reminiscent of cathedrals, complete
with hand painted dial and brass pendulum
belonged to your great grandparents,
one of two things in your home
that came from the plantation they once owned
before the civil war swept through
and began their long, slow decline.
It chimed the hour when you were growing up,
it’s strand spring driven mechanism
sonorous when it rang, and yet somehow
almost tinny.

There is another, from your grandfather’s house.
Faux marble, a bit too bright and gaudy for it’s time,
a tiny arched gravestone, you wind it
and the clock ticks annoyingly, steadily,
never quite keeping perfect time.
According to your grandfather, it never did,
It came from a world’s fair, he once told you,
one of only a couple trips he made
that took him far from his little farm villiage,
His wanderlust never quite fit in there,
and though rarely fed, it was a memory worth having
despite the clock’s being terrible at its job.

The last clock is small. A tilted block. More recent.
A gift you brought back to your parents
from your first trip overseas. A thank you
for feeding your own wanderlust early,
of making you a traveler and wanderer,
willing to be uncomfortable in another’s world for a time
in exchange for the growth each journey brings.
It sat on the desk in their den
until the day the last of them died,
before coming back to you, this small reminder
silent with its electric motor. Almost invisible
except for the mark it left on your soul.

The clocks have dust on them.
You are not the best housekeeper
and time means less to you now than it once did.
Painfully you have learned the lesson
of deadlines and plans destroyed again and again.
There is only now. Here. This moment.
The rest is illusion. A beautiful construction,
artful as the clocks. Full of memories.
Full of promise. And nothing more.

About this poem

I have always been told that I have a difference sense of time than the rest of the world. Maybe that is true, one of the lessons of a life of interruptions and errors. I can keep a deadline with the best of them, but that is not where I live. I live in the now. I’ve had enough of life blow up on me, and enough of life provide me with glorious surprises, to know that’s about all we can count on.

The clocks in the picture are in my office at home. The stories in the poem are true.



  1. When I was a child, I stayed periodically in a relative’s house, while on my way back and forth to boarding school. That house represented warm and welcome and normalcy in a somewhat topsy turvy life. There was a clock that chimed throughout the day and night marking every quarter hour briefly and solemnly chimed all the hours as appropriate. I still can hear the sound which was strangely comforting as was the sound of high speed trains passing in the distance on their way out of London. Long ago sounds. Nostalgia. It seemed a safer world back then.

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