About Tom Atkins

Part poet, part broadcast engineer, part marketing expert, part professional creative, photographer, mentor and entrepreneur - I've never been able to tell people what I do in 25 words or less. Raised in Virginia, I now live in Vermont where the New England countrysides and towns sing to me each day, while technology lets me work with clients anywhere and everywhere.

Poem: Venice

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Venice

Surely, if the road to heaven is narrow,
it runs through Venice,
through narrow passages of color and water,
crumbling brick and boats bobbing with the tide,
Thursday markets with seafood so fresh it still writhes.

There are tourists to be sure,
but stay a while, walk the ghetto and lost streets
too far away for daytrippers,
wander deep into the city,
let the noise dissolve and the pretend perfection dissipate,
and you find the soul of the place,
corners of heaven the world misses.

You discover the antiquity, unvarnished
and infinitely more difficult, beautifully broken,
beautifully real,
Empty cathedrals drip with eternity.
Small shops and cafes with seats left
and waiters without pretense or uniforms
serving coffee, harsh and vibrant.
Colors are bright and faded both
and laundry hangs across the alleys.

This is where your soul lives,
in the narrow places
where you hear the water lap softly on bricks,
where the sun plays peekaboo
and dances in the morning,
where in the distance you hear gondoliers singing
in a language you do not understand,
but understand all too well.

About this poem

If I could find a way to make a living there, I would live in Venice. I have only been once, for a week or so, but it has haunted my soul ever since.

Tom

Poem: What Survival Does

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What Survival Does

This is what you have learned.
That the sea calls to you.
Empty spaces and dangerous voyages.
You dance most when horizons spread beyond your sight.
You are less afraid of storms than rationality calls for.

That is what survival does.
You come to understand that you are smaller and tougher
than you thought.
That fewer miss you when you are gone,
fewer care when you fail,
than you believe.

Shame is an inside job,
and learning to release it leaves you buoyant,
better able to fly,
less afraid,
a new person, more like the one you were born to be
than you know.

About this poem

It was three years ago this month that I discovered Cape Cod, and with it a new appreciation for the ocean, empty beaches and horizons.

Growing older has its advantages. You’ve survived more, which reminds you that you can survive more.

Most people suck at forgiving themselves their mistakes. We should take lessons from God, who forgives perfectly.

From that mess of thoughts, this poem.

Tom

PS – The picture was taken in Provincetown, during that first trip to the Cape.

Poem: The Power to Chill

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The Power to Chill

The March wind cries through the quarry,
harsh and howling. The trees rattle.
The last leaves of winter, the hangers-on
are torn one by one
from the last limbs of winter.

You shudder, and pull your collar high on your neck.
You have lived in that place,
where every vestige, even the dried corpses
of a life gone awry
was torn from you,
You know that slow, terrible death,
watching your remains blow across the landscape,
until all that is left are bare bones,
a skeleton of who and what you were.

You shudder, and it is not the cold.
It is the memory of being raw.
Even knowing the inevitability of spring,
the memory has the power to chill.

About this poem

Intensely personal. Perhaps two people will understand the reference. Yet many of you may understand the emotion.

Tom

 

 

Poem: Deep Waters

 

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Deep Waters

Do not be deceived.
The seas are never as calm as they seem.
They are deep, with riptides and currents,
and the tides draw you further from shore.
There are beasts under the surface,
hungry and rabid with blood-lust,
so vast,
so incredibly vast that you could disappear
and no one would find you.

And yet this is where you swim,
in the deep waters, never certain
if you are brave or foolish
or perhaps,
a bit of both.

About this poem

Mostly, I live out of my depth. It’s where the muscles grow. But it’s a scary place.

The picture was taken in Rye, NH.

Tom

PS: This poem became part of a blog post on my work blog. Interested? Go here. 

Poem: The Silent Places

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The Silent Places

You live in the silent places,
the places long hidden,
buried in fear of judgment,
places of punishment in the midst of struggle,
of anger written in stone,
Gods of hate.

You live in the silent places,
you bring me the courage I never learned.
Always before I was wounded each time I stepped forward into battle,
each step forward met with wounds and wrath,
never any satisfaction unless there was blood on the floor.
But you met wound with balm,
a safe place to heal.

I had almost forgotten safety.
Trust in it came slow.
Tentative.
a lurking of disbelief built over time and missteps
and the anger written in stone,
blind and understanding only belief,
losing faith in the seasons’ power to change and grow.
Stone belief. Raised and ready to kill
in the pretense of love.

You live in the silent places.
All the places I used to hide,
certain if I stayed still enough,
no one would notice.
I would be safe.

Now you are there with me.
Your love and patience a product of Paul’s truth,
and strong as God and his panoply of flawed saints,
you hold me up, and I have learned to speak
no less aware of my flaws and failures,
but no longer afraid of them.

About this poem

A love poem (duh).

“Paul’s truth” refers to 1st Corinthians 13:4-8a, the “love chapter” in the Bible, and Galatians 5:22-23. The very definition of love.

Tom

Poem: Ghosts and Swords

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Ghosts and Swords

One by one they leave.
A few with fireworks.
some with stealth,
slowly wisping away like morning fog.

And what will you do when the last ghost leaves,
when those familiar fears say their goodbyes
and leave you?

What will be left to fight?
Will you be able to put down your sword
and drip your shields to the ground?

Or will you invent new ones,
more comfortable with battle
than peace?

Thoughts: The Power of Love

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Sometimes, too much goes on in a short time that it is hard to get it all down. Hard to give everything it’s due. Hard to process all the emotions.

My son graduated from college this past weekend. My beloved wife and daughter and I all shed our winter flannel and took our long-neglected shorts and T-shirts and flew down to celebrate.

The first thing I feel at graduations is simply gratitude. When my daughter graduated from College a few years ago the mix of joy and pride was overwhelming. I smiled my way through the weekend. I was on the edge of tears all weekend. Good tears, but tears none the less. I had the same mix of emotions going on this time with James.

We’ve come a long way, our little family. There was a divorce when the kids were youngish. My daughter was 11 and just entering middle school. My son was six, just out of kindergarten. They had the strange mix of love and anger that only kids who are part of a divorce carry with them. They were largely groomed to dislike me, yet their feelings did not always feel that way. Their emotions were torn, and that is a hard thing for anyone, much less a kid.

We came to a good place, eventually, but it took time, and it was not without pain. My daughter left her mom and moved up here to Vermont at the end of her junior year of high school. My son made the same move at the same place in his life. They both came up broken in different ways. My daughter barely talked for a week. My son was full of anger and anxiety.

My daughter was a mix of mourning and anger. She had lost a life she loved in Virginia, and came up to me to be emotionally safe. It was a hard choice and not without pain. We found a way. My work had me traveling at the time, and she had to travel with me. She finished high school online. She’d stay in hotels or in my office while I worked. Often on the way too or from the long trips from DC to Vermont, we’d stop someplace and take in the historical sights of the Mid Atlantic and New England. She actually got a taste for traveling.

We worked hard to keep her connections to Virginia intact. We traveled to a band competition. She was working on her Gold Award in girl scouts (like the Eagle Scout award in Boy Scouts, the Gold Award is the highest level in Girl Scouts.) and we managed to work it out so that she could do that project through her Virginia Troop, something that normally not done. You do the award where you live. We managed to work it out so she could transfer her online credits and graduate and walk with her class in Virginia.

My son was a different creature. More social.  We tried the online school but it was not a good fit. He needs a certain amount of structure and needs people around him more than my daughter. I re-arranged life and work so he could go to school near home and he managed the shift well.

They found their passions here. My daughter and her love of historic preservation; my son and his love of lighting and technology.

None of it was easy. I was unemployed for nearly two years while my daughter was here. My shift from traveling work to working from home meant a deep cut in pay. Both kids worked while in school, because they had to. I had savings, but not enough. It was hard.

Both kids had healing to do. Love and gentleness were the tools of choice. But it took time. I learned a lot about their lives in Virginia. My son needed, wanted and got therapy. The scars will never disappear, but they have grown strength and wisdom to help them through their hurt and broken places. They have learned how to control the painful emotions. They understand what healthy relationships can be, and the value of staying away from toxic ones.

My son is gay. In Virginia and here in our corner of New England, it was not an easy thing. But he grew into confidence in himself as a young gay man in an America that is not always good to gay and lesbian people.

They watched me and my struggles. My on-going battle with depression, and how I actively fought it. They watched my first post-divorce relationship rise and fall and come undone.  We suffered loss of my parents and another grandmother they loved. They watched me find the joy in my life with the woman I love, and watched us become a couple and then, man and wife. They accepted her and today, love her dearly. Forget all the stereotypes of a stepmother, it can be a good thing and the three of them have worked themselves, and me, into a family with all that implies.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Through it all, the four of us never all lived in the same place at the same time. My daughter moved up and at first my son, because of his age, stayed with his mother. By the time he could make the decision to move to Vermont, she was off to college. He moved to college a month before I got married.

And yet, we became a family. A real family with regard and love and constant contact between us all. I live in gratitude because I never thought, after my divorce, that this would happen. The scars were too deep. The financial situation was hard. There was too much hurt. The timing was all wrong. And yet, it has. And at times it brings me to tears, humbled by the power of consistency and gentle love. It’s one thing to give that kind of love lip service, quite another to live it despite what seems to make sense, and to see it work.

This was a weekend of celebration. We attended the graduation ceremony at Full Sail. Together we watched James graduate and collect his awards (He won three of them.). We met Jame’s boyfriend of over a year (a wonderful young man.). We went to Disney. My wife had been and was sick, for the weekend, but she was fully a part, and celebrated and laughed and talked away the weekend with us all. The weekend felt like what it is, a family. Simply a family that loves each other.

There’s more growing together to do. My stepdaughter lives a distance away as well. She and I have come a long way, simply by giving each other a chance and seeing what love does and is. She is on her own journey, that may take her farther still, and yet we see the same thing work in our lives.

One thing that struck me. As we talked, as we ate out, before and after Disney, we talked. And much of the talk was about things remembered. There were things about their childhood – for instance, they each had memories of the many trips we made to Disney over the years. And some were memories of recent years, things like my wedding, or some of the tough times. What did they remember? What did the celebrate? The small things. The simple acts of love.

I came to see how much a part of the continuing healing my wife has become, and the importance she plays in their lives now. How, in a way, for all the things that went before, she is part of what brought us together for that final melding. Love. simple love. And as we continue to find our way to closeness and family-ness, her love is central to the growing together, and makes mine stronger.

Don’t let people tell you love is not powerful. It is. I have seen it work. There is no manual for healing broken people and broken hearts. For me, the only guides I had were biblical – 1st Corinthians 13:1-8a, and Galatians 5:22-23. It may seem idealistic, but love works.  Love builds. Love heals. It is, to repeat myself, powerful.

I have seen what it has done for my family, and in my life and in the life of others. There is no substitute.

And I am grateful.

Tom