Poem: Such a Thing as Too Late

 

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Such a thing as Too Late

The ghosts have fled.
They were the last thing holding up these walls.
Everything else left long ago.
The people.
The machines.
The hopes and promises.

Left empty for decades,
coming undone brick by brick,
board by board,
Windows broken, one by one,
some by vandals and bored teenagers,
others by storm and winter winds.

It is a shell now,
or perhaps, less than a shell.
The winds came.
The ghosts fled.
There was one storm too many.

And now, there is only rubble,
politely fenced in and left for the undergrowth
to claim it’s own.

About this poem

My new bride is from Massachusetts. Since meeting her several years ago, and in the past year as I have migrated between Vermont and Virginia, I have fallen in love with the old mills and factories that populate most of the mill towns in the northwestern part of that state. A few have been repurposed, but far more of them have been abandoned.

From time to time I find my way into these abandoned monoliths of early American factories to take pictures. There is a strange, eerie beauty to them. Some are empty. Some still have strange machinery, equipment and a jungle of pipes and wiring.

If you have any belief in ghosts at all, you can sense them in these abandoned factories. It is not hard to imagine these spaces alive with activity and people hard at work building not just things, but lives. When those factories died off, so did the towns and people around them.

In time, those old monuments of industry are forgotten. Even the fences that one set them apart from the world outside, come undone. Paint peels. Windows break. Ceilings collapse, and in time, always in time, everything collapses or goes up in flames from one of the homeless people or addicts that often take up part-time residence in them.

I tend to see old buildings as I would see people in our society. Too many of them are abandoned just because they are difficult or expensive to restore.

There’s always hope as long as the basic person (or building) still stands. But leave them alone long enough, withhold restoration and sooner or later, they can no longer be restored. Ever.

There is such a thing as too late.

Tom

Poem: The Truth About Poets

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The Truth About Poets

Add a little.
Take away a smidge.
Turn it
and look at it from every angle.

Seek.
Don’t Tell.
Show.
Don’t tell.

Read it aloud.
Let the words tumble.
Substitute.
Rip out a wall or two.
Gently.

Somewhere in there is the truth.
Some will see it
Some will not.

It is their own truth they will find,
not mine.
I am nothing more
than a match to the fire.

About this poem

One thing I have learned. My poems cease to be mine the moment you read it. From that moment on, any truth in the verses is yours, not mine.

And sometimes you amaze me with what you discover in my words.

Tom

Poem: A Cautious Spring

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A Cautious Spring

The snow is melting.
The sun is warming.
Tufts of green are showing themselves.

It is a cautious spring.
A slow tease.
Winter refuses to relinquish its grip

and spring will not be denied.
A strange struggle.
An inevitable truth:

Color always wins.

About this poem

Spring has come slowly this year in Vermont. But driving to my favorite diner today, I think it’s finally here. The fields are showing green. At church yesterday one of my parishioners told me her first daffodils are blooming.

It’s like life. Color always wins.

The picture was taken in Fair Haven, VT,  just last week.

Tom

Thoughts: Protective Coloration

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It is something I learned when I was young: protective coloration.

I was not the son my father wanted. I am not sure what he wanted exactly, but mostly I wasn’t it.  I wasn’t mechanical enough. I wasn’t robust enough. I was too quiet. I let my feelings show. I read too much.

As I grew up, I came to realize I didn’t fit molds very well.  I didn’t have a group in high school. I just migrated between several cliques. Never really a part, but never really rejected. I was interested in too many things, but never consumed by any of them.

It continued in my work life. I often had titles but found myself doing things that had nothing to do with my title. I was head of sales in several companies, but it was nothing for me to suddenly find myself dealing with major engineering issues, project management issues, personnel. administrative and creative issues.

I liked it that way. I like seeing how things fit together. I like learning the dynamics of people and organizations. I am as comfortable with installers as presidents.

I don’t exactly shape-shift. I just listen. I ask questions. I don’t volunteer much about what I think or feel. When you do that, I learned, even as a boy, people assume you agree with them. You get along. You don’t get blasted for being different.

I learned that at my father’s feet. At the time I felt it was unfair that I could not be myself and be appreciated. It was hurtful to be called down, cursed and worse for simply not being the same. The same, it appeared as I grew up, was the purpose of life.

I am a mess of contradictions. I always have been. I love ballet and boxing. I am a gentle soul with a wicked dark sense of humor. I am fascinated by politics, but hate the ugliness that comes with it. I am deeply spiritual, but have very mixed feelings about religion, even though I am a part-time preacher.  I hate what alcoholics do to the people around them (my dad’s influence) but adore good bourbon (in small doses). My life is a constant quest for simplicity, but remains strangely complicated. I am deeply liberal on social issues, deeply conservative on financial ones. I am an introvert that loves good company and conversation. I don’t stand up for myself well, but for the people I love, I will go to the mat for.  I fight depression, but I laugh constantly and still function well in the workaday world. I love classical, jazz, Gregorian chants, rock and roll, French Cafe music, and even the occasional rap.

I have strong opinions on everything. Mostly I keep them to myself. It is safer that way. That’s the lesson of my lifetime.  Fit it. That’s what we are supposed to do. I have done it supremely well for fifty some odd years.

Something changed a few years ago. I am not sure why. I am more willing to be more overtly not the same. I have finally, in my sixties, become OK with not being the same. If it causes me some pain, that’s OK. I’ve survived worse pain. If it bothers someone, I have finally come to see the truth – that it’s the other person’s issue, not mine. If being different means I catch hell, well I have lived worse hells. A lot worse.

It’s not that I ever set out to be different. My dad used to swear (literally) that every different thing I did was somehow “against” him.  At the end of my first marriage, my ex often said the same thing. But to me, being different was just….. being me. Still, I was cowed and applied my protective coloration to be able to fit in. It was, I thought, easier. It was, I thought, safer.

Silly me.

I get that now.

First of all, at sixty-two, I pretty much realize I’ll never fit a mold. I am too diverse.

Second of all, I’ve learned finally that fitting in, when I don’t, is hard work. It is way easier to just be what I am.

Third, and this was the big surprise – people mostly like me and my wiggly pile of contradictions. Because many of us are that way. People get it. Some people actually like it.

And the ones that don’t? And yes, there are a bunch of those. Some of them rail at me. I’ve been attacked in public for being too judgemental, and for being too open minded. Once, in the same day I got chewed up at my favorite diner because I was a Christian and everyone knows how judgemental Christians are, and half an hour later some guy was chewing me out because I was “that gay-loving preacher”. Pretty much whatever someone didn’t like about me, they feel very comfortable letting me know in no uncertain terms.

That would have crushed me once. It doesn’t anymore. I am OK not fitting in. I don’t see sameness as a thing to reach for. In fact, I think it is a crushing thing, sameness. And I nearly let myself crushed by it. No more.

I am still not a wild-eyed radical in my differences. No, my nature will always be quiet. But, slowly. I’ve learned to let my protective coloration go. It’s easier.

And I’ve always been lazy.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

PS: The picture was taken in Provincetown, Mass.

Poem: A Storm or Two Ago

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A Storm or Two Ago

A storm or two ago, the beach was pristine.
Perfect sand leading to a perfect horizon.
The stuff of postcards and memories.

A storm or two ago, there was no driftwood.
No rocks. No broken glass.
No shattered shells to cut your feet.

Today, the landscape is different.
More broken. Harsher. Less perfect,
But far more interesting, more real,

More appealing somehow than perfection.
A place of wonderments and stories,
each piece of debris, a tale, a truth.

And so you stretch on the sand.
You breathe in the sun and survey the pockmarked beaches
and wait for the next storm or two.

And smile.

About this poem

The thing about storms in life is that they leave us either defeated or saying “I survived that one. I can survive the next one.”

And once we know we can survive. Anything is possible.

Tom

Poem: The Knowing

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The Knowing

A dark hallway of shops.
A place of stories.
Even though nothing is open you can hear a piano playing,
a slow bluesy riff.
At the far end of the hall, the beach,
the waves a slushy counterpoint to the music,
messy, like life,
ebb and flow,
dark hallways and a faint light at the end.

Not quite sunshine.
Not quite night.

Your footsteps ring against the walls.
You may be alone.
You may not be.
Each step brings you closer
to the knowing.

About this poem

When I was young, and through my teenage years, my family used to go to White Lake, North Carolina, a small lake near the South Carolina border. We stayed at a place called Lasley’s, a collection of ramshackle cottages with an old hotel in the center of the property.

On rainy days, everyone staying there would gather in the lobby of the hotel, a place right out of a Raymond Chandler novel. And right on cue was a tall walnut bookshelf along one wall that was chock full of old detective novels from the forties, fifties and early sixties.

Voila! My love of film noir novels was born. And now, as I approach sixty-three years old, that influence is still with me. I am sure it always will be.

The poem? It can be read literally, or as a metaphor for dark periods in my life. You can enjoy it either way, I hope.

The picture was taken in Provincetown, Mass.

Tom

Poem: Ebb Tide

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Ebb Tide

The ocean has retreated.
Ebb tide.

On the shore, dead things lie.
Seagulls pick at the carcasses.
New stones from the sea pock the beaches.

The last of the fishing boats remain at the docks,
waiting for high water.

You stand on the sand.
It’s cold grittiness grinds on the soles of your feet.

It has been a long winter. Bitter and cruel.
Your skin is dry and raw as your soul, waiting
for the water to rise.

About this poem

Evidently, according to spell check, Ebb Tide is actually one word (Ebbtide). One of the best things about being a poet is that you can ignore such details.

The picture was taken in Provincetown, Mass.

Tom