Poem: Daily It Comes

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Daily It Comes

This is your battle,
fought daily,
to find peace
in a world coming undone
like the second coming,
unwanted truths rising
like the tide.

About this poem

Written after reading one of my favorite poems of all time, The Second Coming, by W. H. Auden.

My life is a constant struggle for peace, something I seem to need more than most people. In the country and time we live in today, there is not much of that to be found.

The picture was taken at Hampton Beach, NH.

And that is where poems come from.

Poem: Able, finally

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Able, finally

Quiet
Waves so gentle
you can barely hear them.
The wind, a whisper.

Half a dozen ducks swim silently
past blue water and indigo skies,
a beautiful exorcism,

your demons quiet,
their twisted truths somehow purged,
evaporated,
allowing you to pretend,

at least for this one moment,
that they have died,
finally,
never to return,

If you think,
you know the truth,
that their gnarly teeth and twisted tongues
are eternal,

a mix of chemicals and trauma,
that rises and falls with the moon,

But now, in this moment, they are subdued,
and you are as you were meant to be,
lost in the moment,
able,
finally
to feel in safety.

About this poem

Peace comes hard. Writing about it, for me, is more difficult that writing about struggles.

Strange huh? And a little sad, I think.

Tom

Poem: Strange Zen

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Strange Zen

Bolts of cloth,
one stacked on the other:
art
without meaning to be,
a picture of peace,
a memory of grandmothers’ feather beds.

You stand,
less looking
than soaking in the strange zen,
their aura, something
perhaps
only you can feel,

and only in this moment.

About this poem

I can’t sew a lick. But I’ve always loved going into fabric stores and seeing the patterns and colors. A poor man’s museum perhaps.

It began when my mother used to take me to Joanne’s Fabrics as a small boy, and it continues to this day. I have a friend, Maria Wulf, who is a fabric artist and when I get to visit her studio I can stand and look at the piles of cloth for what probably seems, to outsiders, a bit too long of a time. This particular stack of cloth was at the Shaker Villiage in Stockbridge, Mass.

Tom

Thoughts: A Pile of Rocks

stones

If you ride in my old Isuzu Trooper, you might notice a small cache of white stones in the gearshift console. That might surprise you, because my kids are grown past the point where they pick up every rock and leaf for their never ending and slightly abstract childhood collections.

No, the rocks are mine. I picked them up while walking the beaches at the end of Cape Cod a week or so ago. They are common stones. White, rounded, almost like tiny eggs. Go to the beaches today and you would easily find many, many more of them.

I picked them up the first night I arrived in Provincetown. It was nearing sunset and I had finished a six hour drive to come this place I had never been, to come to the ocean’s edge for the first time in many, many years. I had no agenda. I didn’t even know really why I was there, just that I had heard the ocean calling to me relentlessly for months, and I have learned that when that inner voice pesters me for months on end, I should pay attention to it. It often knows things my conscious mind does not.

I dumped my suitcase in the room, and drove out to Race Point, the corner of the island where it turns from the bay to the ocean, and I walked. There were, I was told, Wright whales off the shore, but that night, I did not see them. There were also, I was told, seals that lazed around on the beaches, but none of those were in sight either. There was water, sky and sand. And right near the place where sea and sand came together, there was a row of stones, washed up by a confluence of tide and a dip in the sand.

The rocks were a mix of colors, most of them dark. Grey. Black. Dark brown. And a few were brilliant white.

Perhaps they were not really so brilliant, but the combination of a low-lying sun and the water still glistening on them as the tide receded make them sparkle and in the midst of all the dark colors and dark sand, they were like jewels. I picked one up, then another, and another until I had a small handful of them. They were worn smooth from who knows how many years of being washed back and forth in the sand. They had a gentle texture, smooth, and yet not perfectly smooth at the same time. Like velvet, captured in stone.

I carried those stones in my coat pocket for miles down the beach, and then miles back. From time to time, I would pull them out and look at them, still glistening in the falling sun. It was like holding magic in my hands.

Most of the time, when I travel, it takes a day or two to spool off the pressures and speed of regular life and sink into a different rhythm. That is something I take into account when I travel, that the first day may be a mixed bag of still engaged in the world left behind, and the world of a new place without schedules and responsibilities. Something about these storm-tossed stones, though, sent me to that peaceful place right away.

As I finished my walk, I took them out of my pocket and dropped them, one by one into the console. They were dry now, but still white, with that wonderful texture worn smooth by time. They have been that way ever since.

They have become a touchstone for me. A visible symbol of the peace I felt as I walked along the cold, lonely shores of Cape Cod. Not everyone is cut out for aloneness, or long stretches of time looking inward. Some with their monkey minds are bored without activity and things to do. Some avoid that alone time because it causes us to face things, sometimes hard things, we do not what to face. No, not everyone is cut out for it. But for me, it is like manna, refreshing, and renewing.

Yes, I think as I walk lonely stretches or hike mountain paths. At least, I think sometimes, turning my life around like a jewel, examining every cut and facet, noticing imperfections and beauty, wondering at a life and a journey that has brought me here, where ever here is. But at other times, I do not think at all. I simply let everything go, including myself. I disappear, even to myself.

I did a lot of disappearing while in Cape Cod. Walking without being aware of it. (until later when my legs reminded me that I should do more of this.), not seeing the beauty, not feeling the bitter cold wind. I don’t really know what happens when I disappear. It is not a conscious thing. Unlike meditation, where you seek a certain simple “being”, this is a “not being”. I am not in the moment. In fact, I am not.

I don’t know what happens, but I know it is healing. I don’t get in the way of myself, or of God, and I can heal without being concerned about either the brokenness, or the whys, or the hows.

As I get older, I have been amazed at how nicely life unfolds when I don’t press it, and simply allow it. Over the past several years, I have transitioned from a life where I pushed everything, where I thought it was my job in life to make things happen. I was that way in most everything, my work, my church work, my family, my creative endeavors. And I got a lot done.

But I lost some of that drive after my divorce. Part of my brokenness, I suppose. Or at least, I saw it that way at the time. Or maybe it was the depression that overtook me during that time. I just seemed to lack something that I had had before, the energy, the drive. And it’s never really come back.

My expectation, when I never got it back, was that with the losing of that drive, my life would dry up. I would not be as successful as I had been. I would not do as good as work. And I had begun to adjust my life to the idea that that life was diminished, and adjusting myself to that idea. But that is not the way it played out. Yes, there was a wallowing time, a time of change and struggle. But over the past few years, that drive was replaced by something else – readiness.

What I mean is that while I don’t push, I live in an expectation that good things will happen, that opportunities will show themselves for me to do good, interesting productive work; that I don’t need to force being a good parent – the chances will come; that I don’t have to make myself create, I just have to be ready to take inspiration and run with it. The key is to be ready, and always looking for chances to do… anything I want to do. My creative work is not work any more. It’s more a flow. I just get out of the way and let it happen. And it’s better than it was a decade ago. Authenticity has power.

Don’t ask me how it works. Don’t ask me why. I call it “The Manna Effect”, after the time the Israelites were in the desert and God fed them with Manna, a bread-like substance. Manna was strange stuff. It showed up in the morning and you could eat your fill, but you could not save it up. Try to and it would rot. So you just had to have faith that it would show up the next morning. For someone like me, it was an anathema. I believed you had to make things happen. That’s what ny father told me. That’s what society told me. That’s how I lived, always looking for ways to move my life forward.

But I spent a lot of time after my divorce “not doing”. Not from choice, just from a lack of drive. So many of the roles in my life, the reasons I had driven myself, were gone, and I did not know what to replace them with. I spent time in therapy. I spent time in thought. I spent time in prayer. I healed. Partially.

Maybe partially is not the right word. I healed….. differently. I became and am still becoming, something different. Less driven. Not less skilled. Not less successful. Not less good. Simply all those things without the NEED to succeed. Without the fear of failing that society breeds into us. I just did. And left the rest to God, to the universe, whatever you choose to call that life force that is beyond us. (In my case, it is always God, big G.). And it works out. Manna. No more than I need, always what I need. It used to scare the ever-loving hell out of me, but now, a decade later, I have come to trust it.

I forget to trust sometimes, however. Life piles on. Disappointments strike. Frustrations and mistakes and failings abound. And in those times, I need reminders. Touchstones that bring me back to that place of allowing life rather than forcing life. Reminders of blessings. Reminders of hope. Reminders to trust the Manna.

And this small pile of time polished white rocks is one of my touchstones. They won’t mean anything to anyone who rides with me. Just another one of Atkins’ quirks.

And I am full of them.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

Poem: Peace in the Midst of War

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Peace in the Midst of War

Nothing offsets the hate
except time
and truth
and your ability
to trust them both.

About this poem

I get surprisingly little hate, but when I do, it is venomous. That kind of spewing anger, which reminded me so much of my own father when his temper unleashed on me (a fairly regular event when I was young) used to crush me, really until the last few years.

Only once or twice in my life have I fought back. Both times I won, but when the conflict was over, I felt as though I had lost. So today, my tendency is to wait it out and trust who and what I am to talk louder and more eloquently than I can do with words.

It’s hard. It’s really hard. But in the long run, I believe it has worked. And I am way stronger than I used to be. I know if I need to fight… I can.

Today, I thank the haters, for making me that way. I didn’t at the time. But I do now.

Tom

Thoughts: North Sea

 

North Sea

September, two years ago.  I was just outside Amsterdam, standing on the North Sea. It had rained all week. There was rain predicted for the next day.

I had come to Amsterdam as part of some freelance work I had been doing for an overseas company. I loved the work. It played to my talents and skills. It gave me a chance to do what I do best – build something new.

The promise had been that after months of free-lance, they would hire me full time, and then I could take all my planning and work of the previous few months and execute it.  I was excited. I was pumped.

I was fired.

No one really told me why. I never got a clear answer or a chance to discuss it. In the end, as I pieced it together and talked to others in the company, I came to realize I was simply the victim of a larger corporate struggle.

But in that moment? I was devastated.  Six months work. Six months emotional investment. Done. Over. Wasted.

Because when I work, I am all in. I’ve never had the knack of making anything, even my freelance work, “just a job.”  And six months, coming to know the company, the people, the dream, I was wrapped up in their success as if it were my own.

And now, it was done. I was no longer needed or wanted. Another log on the fire of internal politics.

And worse, I had four more days in Amsterdam before I flew home. I could not go back to lick my wounds. I was in a strange city without a friend to talk to.

The first day, I simply wandered the streets of Amsterdam. I walked and walked and walked. It is a beautiful city, one of few cities I believe I could live in. (I love cities, but not as a place to live.). Compact. Medival. Vibrant. Full of arts and museums and homes and wonders.

Not that I saw them. Not really. I look back at my pictures of that day, and they are horrible, random, products of habit rather than wonder. Honestly, I remember little about that day, except the rain and the canals. I walked. And walked and walked some more, as if the act of walking would somehow heal.

All it did, I think, was stall the pain. But at times, that is enough. At the time, it was all I could do.

The next day, I decided to take a tour into the countryside. Windmills. Villages. Seaside towns. Another rainy day as the bus shuttled us from village to village, past the fields with their dikes and canals, to and from museums. I actually remember some of it.

We stopped at one seaside town on the edge of the North Sea. Don’t ask me the name. It had lots of syllables. The busload of people flocked to the docks, to the little eateries along the main street.

I wandered. Past the edge of town, to a tiny little beach. No one was there. The sun came out. The first time I had seen it all week. I sat in the sand and took off my shoes and put them in the water. In the North Sea.

In my mind, the North Sea is a place of storms and wind and waves. I suppose I’ve read too many Norse legends in my day. But on that day, it was a place of utter peace. I took off my shoes and put my feet in the water. It was bracing and cold.

Something in me woke up.

Gratitude.

Yes, I had not gotten the work I had hoped for. Yes, the emotional investment of six months was wasted. I would never complete the dream I had seen in this company and my part in it.

But on the other hand. I was in the Netherlands. For a few days. With no responsibilities. On someone else’s tab. There could be worst things. As I sat on the beach, my feet grew numb, but my heart regained its courage. There would be new clients. New work. There would be others to help, and others who would appreciate my work.

I’d be OK.

I was of course.  We generally are. But it took the shock of a cold and still North Sea, normally the place of storms and struggle, to right me. To remind me that even the worst stormy places have their moments of peace. And that we need to grab them when they are offered. It was a lesson I needed to be reminded of. And a lesson that has stayed with me.

I remember the last two days vividly. I made the same walking journey I had made the first day, but it was like making the journey for the first time. I would take full advantage of being “fired” and enjoy the moment. Just the moment. I would not plan for the future r worry about it either. I would and did absorb the magic of being in a wondrous, new place. It was pure joy.

The North Sea has a whole different connotation to me. I don’t think of storms and ice. I think of the brief moment of grace it gave me. And the lesson it retaught me.

And the peace that we can find, even in the stormiest places.

Be well. Travel Wisely.

Tom

 

 

Poem: Swimming the Storm

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Swimming the Storm

This is what I know,
that rain and storms,
battles and wars
end,

and like the seas,
they return to placid
stillness.

So in this moment,
I will swim the storms,
battered perhaps
beyond recognition,

but only
for now.

About this poem

I don’t pretend it is easy. But peace comes when we allow it.

The picture was taken in the pool of a fountain in Norfolk. Va.

Tom