Poem: Beneath the Vines

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Beneath the Vines

The vines have nearly swallowed you,
their tendrils of sadness, soft green
and seductive, have climbed your walls
and covered the windows and doors
with their awful beauty.

You do know know how to be weak,
how to cry from the stones and foundation
upon which you are built,
And yet,
you are weak as stones,
the mortar that one held you together,
eaten alive, crumbling,
eaten away by the quiet hunger
that surrounds you

What magic
will push back the vines
that have grown from ornament
to murderer? What incantation
or pleading will bring back the sunlight
to your wounded stones? What prayers
will reach beyond,
to a God strong, loving, and distant?

You do not know.

That is the truth.
You know the words,
know the promises and songs,
know the magic phrases
That saved you one before, but
now hang in the dense afternoon humidity,
food for the beast.

But still you struggle. You fight.
Because you know no better.
even less than being weak,
you do not know how
to surrender.

About this poem.

I wrote this poem to the picture above, taken in Brattleboro, VT. Often poems I write to a picture are largely fabrications, poetic exercises, but there is truth in this one.

We all know what it is like to be overwhelmed slowly. Finding our way back however, is not always easy, not always clear, and often takes as much, or more time to heal as it took to get to the crumbling place, Some come back from it. Some end up as ruins.

Tom

Poem: Ropes

ropes

Ropes

Yes, they were ropes,
but they were silken,
soft with promises and hope,
remembrances of tender nights
and fiery passion,
of talks deep into the night,
so late, the candles flickered out
while the words went on.

Yes, they were ropes,
but they were your ropes,
familiar as they held you,
as they cut into your arms
and your soul as surely
as the torturers knife.
They were the devil you knew,
dressed in Brooks Brothers,
polite and patient and cruel,
just out of reach, an expert
in knots he tied himself.

Yes, they were ropes,
and now, suddenly, they are gone,
slashed in a fit of childish tantrum,
but no less gone for that,
fallen to your feet,
freeing you to fly or flee to dark corners.
You are lost without them.
but bravely and full of fear,
you peer around the corner
to see what is there.

About this poem. 

Sometimes the thing we fear most sets us on our truest path.

Tom

Poem: Ghosts

quarry 1

Ghosts

Dusk falls.
Silent,
the black clouds
like nightmares.
The sun,
starved and dying,
a breeding ground
for the ghosts
that haunt not your house,
but your soul.

About this poem.

The ghosts that haunt our houses are mild compared to the ones we carry in our heads.

Tom

PS – The picture was taken in the quarry just across the street from my house in West Pawlet, Vermont.

Poem: The End of the World as We Know It.

berries

The End of the World as We Know It. 

There is the briefest covering of snow
on this day before the end,
a glaze of beauty in a world
that needs to end.

Small drops of color draw your eye,
and you stop in remembrance,
the red berries like drops of blood
on the child white landscape.

Somehow in the midst of madness
all around us, seen on every screen,
our innocence remains,
our belief that we were not made to die

rises with every challenge,
with every sad insanity,
and we stop and remember
what God whispers every day,

what we lose in the din of life,
that every life, every drop of blood
is precious, deserving of love,
mad and maimed allike.

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Sometimes a poem is like a stew, where you keep tossing things in until you end up with what you end up with. This picture, which I always felt had a poem in it, the Mayan end of the world fantasy, and the recent horror of Sandy Hook have been brewing for days. This isn’t about any of them, but together, they helped me create the poem.

The picture was taken down the road at Consider Bardwell Farm last weekend.

Thoughts: Psalm 32:1

The picture above is not one I expect to ever have published or sell. In fact, it’s downright bad. But to me it is a thing of beauty.

All I did was walk out my front door, Point (not aim) the camera towards a section of the quarry across the street and snap a shot shooting into the air. You see, for a month or so now, my camera developed a slight smudge on all it’s images about 2/3 the way up and centered. It was slight, so it did not show in dark images, but on skies, it was there.

I worked around it. I shot more indoor shots, more shots of color and busy backgrounds. In some cases I used software and was able to “erase” the smudge.

I didn’t want to deal with the smudge for all kinds of oh so human reasons. I didn’t want to stop shooting pictures. I make part of my living as a photographer and it’s something I love, almost an extension of me and not having it for a time would hurt, in more ways than one. I was also afraid that the smudge would turn out to be something expensive, maybe so expensive I might have to replace the camera and this is not a time in my life that I have spare money for a new camera. I could fake it pretty well. It wasn’t so bad.

So I worked around it. I avoided shots I could not do. I faked it.

Then last week I had a series of conversations with several people and one group that changed me. Not just for the camera (although one of the first results of that change was sending the camera off to get fixed), but in general.

In all of these conversations, I was talking to people and groups who had problems. Medical problems. Physical problems. Financial problems. Emotional problems. Spiritual problems. Between the conversations, they covered the waterfront.

These weren’t new problems. In fact, they had been going on for a long time, and they were avoiding actually doing anything about them for all the same reasons I had been avoiding dealing with my camera. Money. Fear of it being much worse. They could work around them.

But time catches up with that. Don’t do the maintenance and things break down. This is true of things, people, hearts, souls, relationships, whatever. I’ve seen it happen in others, and I have seen it happen in my own life.

What I have learned, is that I need people in my life to help me sort through things. Doctors for my body. Counselors for my emotion. People of mature faith for my soul. Professionals for my work. These may be professionals, but at the very least they need to be people who know and care about me, who see me at my best, see me when I veer from my best, and who can guide me, gently, in love and kindness and understanding who I am, to a better place.

It’s not just enough to have those people “around”. I need to involve them in my life. Share my joys, failures, struggles, confusion, desire, talents and the dark places I’d rather ignore or erase. It means I have to be (gasp!) vulnerable.

I have learned, the hard way. What happens when we neglect to do this is simple. “Things fall apart.” as William Butler Yeats writes. We fall apart. Neglect to be part of a large group with people who can counsel us, and whose counsel we put to work, means we are not effectively doing the routine maintenance on our lives that we should be doing.

And things fall apart. Last week’s round of conversations, all coming at me from all sides at once hit me like a ton of bricks. I saw emotional issues not dealt with that were pulling families and relationships apart, I saw companies not dealing with key issues slowly eroding. I saw churches not dealing with large issues while patching the small ones. I saw health issues ignored and ignored and ignored again.

And in most of the conversations, things have eroded. They are near the falling apart place, where it no longer holds together, no longer has the solid foundation. There are going to be disasters in some of these lives. At this point, it’s unavoidable. Some of the pieces may be redeemable afterwards. Some will not. A great deal will be lost that does not have to be.

And in every case. EVERY CASE! It could have been avoided.

Like I said, I’ve been there. I have had points in my life where I tried to deal with my struggles alone, even as they grew to be more than I could deal with alone. It was only when I turned to people who were both wise, and could see my wholeness as well as my flaws to help guide me.

Psalm 32:1 (I bet you were wondering when that would come in, weren’t you?) was in my bible reading this morning. It reads. “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.”

That is what the loving spirit does. The broken person realizes that their helper sees their wholeness, sees their potential, sees their best self. Part of why we don’t deal with issues in our lives is shame.

Our world tells us the myth of the self made man. We are supposed to be able to do everything, handle everything ourselves. But that is a lie. A few bull through, often damaging others in their climb, but most of us limp through, when we could be flying. Most of us crawl to the finish line, when we could dance.

A loving spirit, a group of wise people who see our best and remind us of it often, but still have the wisdom to gently guide us through our flaws and struggles, removes that shame, lifts that feeling that we are not worthy. When we are told that we are saved from sin, perhaps the biggest part of that saving is the removal of shame that lets us reconnect with people, and with God.

And it is that connection that helps us heal and grow.

At 57, I have seen it. In my own life, and in the lives of others. When we have loving, wise people for our health, souls, relationships, emotions and work,  then we do well, have more joy, less shame. We spend our lives living, not struggling. We have less to hide, more to rejoice about. Things may fall apart, but we build faster than how we fall apart.

When we were kids, our parents were all over us about the company we kept. They knew being surrounded by positiveness and goodness was healthy for us. And it is no less healthy now.

Where are you broken? Where are you struggling? Do you have people in your lives who are not just mechanics, but healers? People who are not just wise in their fields  but who have invested time in getting to know you? If not, go find them. Find your joy. Let me tell you as someone who has traveled from joy to the depths, and back again, that journey to a better place begins when we give ourselves to loving wisdom.

It’s what God wants for us. It’s part, I think, of why he did not want man to be alone. We are made for relationship, not aloneness. Relationship, whether it is with God, or with those that love us, gives us the opportunity to lean on others when we need it, be treated when we are ill, find solutions when we have none, rise again when we are broken.

Off my soap box. It’s just that the little things in life are always reteaching me big lessons. I sometimes can’t help myself. But for now, I am going to go out and take some pictures.

Of sky.

Tom

 

 

 

Poem: The Devil’s Garden

The Devil’s Garden

It is too dark.
The path has wound too long.
It is dark, twisted,
the stuff of nightmares

that never wake.
The undergrowth is black-green
and creeps, almost alive,
reaches for you

in the moments you dare hope.
You are afraid.
You are lost, hungry
for the briefest wisp of sunlight.

You have fought ghosts,
fought indifference, fought
the hungry November fog
and now,

you are weary, ready
almost,
to lie down and let the creeping vines
draw you into their arms,

ready to surrender,
a task that should be easy,
just cease, and rest.
What a joy it would be to rest!

You shut your eyes.
You pray an uncertain prayer,
trusting God will know
what you do not,

that he will love you,
even in your brokenness,
whether you lay here for a black eternity
in the devil’s garden,

or rise.
You listen to the silence, and,
bone weary,
you stand,

and walk.

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The photograph was taken in Cornwall, England. You can click on it for a larger version.

Tom

Poem: Mark 9:23

Mark 9:23

It takes nearly all your strength
to wake, to pull the wrinkled white sheets
off your body, and
to walk, dress, eat.

It rains outside,
no matter the weather,
and you struggle to begin
a day as empty as the last.

There is no magic pill,
no abracadabra
to transport you to joy.
It is an act of faith, no more

that empowers you,
a remembrance
of past and promises,
of paths once taken that led you home, and

will lead you there once again.

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Mark 9:23 reads  – “If you can?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”.  Too often, I think, we leave out the first part of the verse in favor of the second. But we have all been in places where believing is hard, and acting in belief, even when there is no evidence, or worse, when the evidence seems to be against you, is a supreme act of faith., and the first part acknowledges the real struggle of our humanity.

The photograph was taken at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester, Vermont. Burr and Burton began as a seminary, and it’s now an extraordinary high school that serves Manchester and many of the outlying towns. You can click on it for a larger version.

Tom