Poem: Workboats

workboats.JPG

Workboats

They are not the stuff of magazines and advertisements.
Rarely as photogenic, or clean and bright.
Most of them carry scars on their paint and rust
on the machinery and chains.
Mostly, they smell of dead fish and lobster corpses
that a daily flushing from hoses and brooms can never eliminate.

They are the workboats.
Dirty and real, and to me far more perfect
than the glossy ads that drew me here the first time.
They are why I keep coming.

It is a different kind of beauty,
built less on a color wheel and more on tradition
and the belief that the hard work has purpose
even when it is not seen,
even when it is belittled or ignored.
Even then, the work endures and there is strength in it,
these invisible imperfect craft
that go out in the night and return in the morning,
breathless and bleeding and victors
without kingdoms or castles.

About this poem. 

We tend to dismiss the less flamboyant, even when they are essential to all that we are.

Oh, and about boats too. When I travel to Cape Cod, I love hanging around the fishing boats more than anything else.

Tom

Poem: A Subtle Wind

m5

A Subtle Wind

A breath.
A swing of the pendulum.
Time, at last
to rest, to stare into the sky
and let your place
find its place.
Find peace.

You can almost feel its passing.
A subtle wind,
fragrant with promise.

About this poem. 

It’s been a good day. Changes fall all around me, and I am at peace.

Tom

Poem: Deciding Reality

m1 BW_resize

Deciding Reality

Each board fits just so.
Imagine the patience,
the steady hand
and the eye that sees the detail
and how each thin floorboard fits into the next,
part of a larger creation
that merges color and stain and grain and artistry
into something so beautiful
that you walk on it,
artistry under your feet.
You feel almost guilty walking on it.

Nothing fits together so well in your life.
It is a collection of loose ends and ragged work,
of uncertainties, never nailed down,
always in flux, largely invisible,
art of a different kind, comedic depression,
gallows humor with a splash of paint
to disguise it as something
normal.

Let’s not kid ourselves.
There is no normal.
There is only real and not real
and a crazy gamut of things in-between,
mixing bowls of madness and some ever-changing
what-should-be.

Artistry.
That’s what it is.
Craftmanship of the crazy,
you, me, all of us.
Coping and creating,
nail by nail, ephemera by ephemera,
Isadora Duncan and the carpenter, hand in hand,
deciding reality
even as we make it up.

About this poem.

If each of us has our own truth, what is the truth? What an interesting dance life is.

Tom

Life is Not a Series of Tasks

s12_resize

I am sitting in my favorite diner.

That’s the line I often write when I have no idea where I am going with my writing on a particular day. I generally actually AM in my favorite diner when I write them. It’s the typing version of saying “um” before speaking.

When I write things for other people – ad copy, web work, talks, I rarely have trouble writing. I have a purpose. I have facts. I have an audience. I am a craftsman. It’s not about me. It’s about whoever is paying me to generate good words about a good project.  Years of training, education and practice and a modicum of discipline and voila! Deadlines met.

My morning writing is different. It is a discipline meant to keep my mind and emotions supple. It helps me figure out me. And it generally starts not with a plan or an idea, but a blank slate.

I meditate. It’s something I began after my divorce a gazillion years ago. I wished I had learned the practice earlier. I had an overactive mind that got overwhelmed by it all, and had trouble getting the thoughts and emotions out. Mix with a dash of depression and you have someone who needed help getting from “functional” to someone you might consider a person worth having a relationship with.

Meditation is one of my tools. I have a lot of them. I need a lot of them. But they work. I clear my mind in the morning. I clear my mind part way through the day. And when I come here to my favorite diner, I have no agenda.

I simply ask myself the same thing: What am I feeling?

Feelings got lost in my world somewhere back there. Life became a series of tasks. Things to be done. And there were too many of them.

That, the too many part, was my own fault. I allowed myself to be drained dry by other people’s needs, keeping up the array of tasks that had to be done. Bit by bit, I allowed the things that nourished me to whither and drop to the wayside. I called myself selfish for wanting quiet time, time to create, to ponder and wonder.

And pretty much, the best of me died.

Well, not really. The best of us rarely dies, I was more like a fallow field. I needed rest and work, I needed to be reseeded and I needed the patience of time for nature to do what nature does when left to it’s best practices. Recover.

It was a painful time, those first years of coming back to myself. I had the trait of beating myself up relentlessly instead of examining what parts were mine and what parts were not mine to take responsibility for. I had to deal with being lost. Me! Who had always been the one people turned to when they were lost. I had to deal with cutting away deadwood – parts of me that had died and deserved to die and were just weighing me down.

I read. I went to therapy. I talked to pastors. (Shoutout to David and Carol!). I spent a lot of time looking inward.

Seeking your soul when that soul is broken is hard work. It’s a gaping mess and it takes imagination and faith to think that ugly thing you are staring at has potential. I had to learn to cut out the voice of my ex-wife, who I had listened to for 25 years and who had mattered, but could no more see potential in me than I could at that time. Suddenly, that thing I loved the most in life – alone time. Looking into my soul time. Was painful and hard and often left me in despair.

Ah, but meditation saved me. That sounds dramatic because the truth is all kinds of things and people saved me. Particularly the people around me. Friends who knew the real me better than I did myself at that time. A surgical, perceptive, spiritual counselor who despite her gentle nature never let me off the hook. Pastors.

Books! Books were my mirror. I read them on the recommendation of all kinds of people and over and over again I saw myself in them, and gathered tools around me to help me. I have become a walking encyclopedia of self-examination and self-help books. None of them had all the answers for me in particular, but they had answers to bits and pieces.

Did I mention medication? I’ve been on the stuff for twelve years. I got lucky. We found something early one that worked pretty well. It didn’t change me, it just took the edge off the depression so I could do the mind work needed to press on and really change things. At this point it’s a question mark as to whether I actually need the stuff, but the tiny dose I take is like insurance against rough times.

But meditation! That was the game changer for me.

There’s all kinds of meditation. For me, the kind that works best is not the kind that seeds thoughts but the time that drains thoughts and empties me. Leaving no place for anxiety (worrying about what might happen) or depression (worrying about what has happened and our worth.). There is only now. I can look at now. What is. In a healthier way. Not good. Not bad. Just is.

I’ve been sick the past couple of weeks. Nothing special, just the plague of the years that seem to hit a lot of folks. It was a rougher than usual batch, and sent me to the doc a couple of times.

I do what people do. I plowed through. I did the things that had to be done. Life became again, a series of tasks to be done rather than a life to be lived. I got everything done. Other than putting up with a nagging cough and hoarse voice, I don’t think most people noticed.

Except of course, my poor wife. She is such a wonderful caretaker. She is the one who sent me off to the doctor’s – both times. I am sure I would be worse if I had not gone. She prods me to make sure I take my medications. (I am notoriously sloppy at that.). She is always checking in on me, asking me if I have been drinking, did I eat, all that good stuff I tend to forget when I am feeling bad.

She and I talk.

OK, I know most couples talk, but I mean, we talk. Constantly. Substantively. Not just about the weather and the day’s schedule, but about what is on our hearts, what makes them sing and what makes us mourn. We laugh and we get frustrated and we rejoice together. We puzzle things out. I read somewhere that the average married couple, when you take away the have to do day to day stuff of the day, only talks about 15 minutes a day about real things. For us that would not even be foreplay to the foreplay.

We talk.

But we haven’t talked a lot. the past couple of weeks. I’ve been sick. She’s had way too much on her plate, but in terms of things to do and in emotional terms. We’ve been buried.

Friday night, on the way back from a family visitation for a funeral I was to do Saturday, we stopped for dinner, and the floodgates broke loose. We talked and talked and talked. We emptied out all the backlog of the past week. It was a reconnection and relaxation we both needed.

And Saturday, I began meditating again. Rebalancing after a week or two out of balance. Ah, the emptying out!

The tasks got done. But the important stuff. The sanity stuff. Didn’t always. It got pushed back. Only for a couple of weeks. I was in no danger. Not like so many years before. Still, it made a difference. Looking at the poems of the past few days, they are raw. Not bad, just raw. The result of there just not being enough of me.

I think that was one of the curses of thinking too much. I never thought there was enough of me. I was never enough. There were all these things to deal with and it was (I thought) mine to deal with them.

Pretty prideful stuff, thinking I needed to be in everything I was thinking about. Who did I think I was? As I let things go, life went on. As I let fears go, the bad stuff rarely happened. Mostly, life is good stuff. Whether we are involved or not. Years into this new, less worrisome way of living, I am far better off. And as far as I can tell, the people around me are no worse off for my not being and trying to take care of everything. In fact, they may be better off.

So today, and most days, I empty myself. I start anew. I ask myself simply, what am I feeling? And I let my poems tell me. Mostly, I am as surprised as you.

Today, I am thankful. I have survived another period of life being tasks. That more than the array of germs and viruses coursing through my body, has been my enemy the past couple of weeks. I am back to myself.

I missed some things. A gathering of friends of mine was happening down the road, with people I love coming from all over the country. I didn’t go, between funerals and other people’s needs and my sickness, I just didn’t make it. That’s OK. They had a great time without me. I wasn’t even missed, I suspect.

Some work didn’t get done. You should see the laundry piled up. And until last night, the dishes. That’s OK. I have enough clean clothes and enough dishes to catch up. And I will.
But the peace? It’s good to have it back. After living a life without it for my first fifty some odd years, and discovering it only late in life, I miss it terribly when I can’t do the work to keep it handy.

I am grateful. I have survived myself. I have survived others who would rather I didn’t. I have a woman whose love humbles me in my life. I have two children whose love I once thought I had lost, who love me dearly. I have friends. I have a faith that is deep and open-hearted. I have food and shelter and good work. Mostly, at last, I am at peace with myself. Not perfect, simply at peace.

Everything else? It’s gravy. All I need is in that one paragraph.

Grateful.

Grateful.

Grateful.

Time to have breakfast.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

 

Poem: The Smell of Paint

art of Tom Atkins 4

The Smell of Paint

You breathe deeply.
There are mineral spirits in the air
and the smell of paint.

Around you, canvas and paper glisten.
Unfinished inspiration.
A life like yours, full of experiments,
so many gone, not wrong, but awry,
odd art, suitable for slicing into bookmarks,
rectangular reminders of stopping points
and the courage to fail with enthusiasm
(Thank you Winston)
and even glee.

It is what you do, less creation than capture
of the most elusive treasure you own,
your own emotions.

Beaten out of you young,
life has become a chase,
a journey of finding out your own heart before it escapes,
before it runs amuck, a child with seizures and scissors.

You breathe in
the smell of paint.
It grounds you.

Words ground you.
The touch of her hand…

Ah, that is another story altogether,
a tale of an old man’s passion and peace,
your place of safety,
safe to whimper and howl,
safe then to dance under the moon without reminders
of the myriad flaws all old men have.

We both know they are there, those flaws.
Small discords in the descant.
A color that clashes,
making the painting.

About this poem

Where did THAT come from? Winston Churchill, a batch of botched paintings, good coffee and a good night’s sleep.

Never underestimate the sneakiness of inspiration.

Tom

Poem: Stupid Simple

s20_resize.JPG

Stupid Simple

Somewhere the sun is shining.
Here there is rain.
The weather changes.
Life changes.
That’s just how it works.
There is no mystery to it.
No secrets.
Not mystical frou-frou.
There are good times
and bad
and where I am now has little relation
to where I will be the next day, and the next.

Stupid simple,
isn’t it?

So enjoy the sun. It will pass.
Enjoy the rain. It will pass.
All that remains is the love, or hate you left behind
as the weather changed.

That stuff lives forever.

About this poem. 

Not very poetic. Ah well.  The results of writing poetry with too much medication in your system.  No wisdom here this morning. The only thing is now. And there is almost always good stuff in it. But that is less important than what we leave behind in our wake. Stupid simple. But most important stuff is.

Tom

Poem: New Soil

m14

New Soil

It has been a decade and more since I was tossed aside,
deemed no longer worthy of effort and care.

Flotsam I was for a time, unrecognizable,
odd man out, suddenly unsure of who and what I was.

And with good reason. I was worn.
The erosion ran deep and you were bled out,

a perfectly preserved cadaver, with breath.

And so began a journey, unexpected
and far more interesting than any I had planned,

a Robinson Crusoe search for my soul
and the underpinnings.

I was not good at protecting myself, a thing the shrinks
warn me about to this day. Some things never heal.

It is amazing what one can find in the rubble,
the bits and pieces, the cornerstones and momentoes
worth far more than you imagined when all was at peace.

So too, it is amazing how much can be let go, love letters
and other ephemera. The promise of things seem less certain,
and certainly, of less value.

And so I rebuilt, first with no other object than a roof,
protection from the storm. Not pretty and never sure,
a wobbly sort of future, well suited to a fragile soul.

You have abandoned tomorrow. You have lost faith in its power.
There is only today, today and always today,

leaving a house and a life made differently,
less predictable, a stack of wooden blocks and flowers,
of cats and computers and textbooks of spirits and Sherlock Holmes.

Oh, how I cared what you thought! It almost broke me.
And yet, here I am,

planted in new soil, less tended than allowed,
my roots finding their way between the layers of stone beneath the grass,
slying building strength in the bedrock.
a creature of today, flowers changing with the seasons,
roots as eternal as God.

And so I am a new thing. Unrecognizable in ways,
familiar in others, rubble made good,
Not so much that the pieces are unrecognizable
as the putting together.

No one would plan this
except a gleeful God, filled with child-like creativity
at play

About this Poem

As I sipped coffee with my bride this morning, full of peace and love I never expected again, I realized I have been in Vermont just less than a decade. It’s been an amazing journey. Who woulda thunk it?

God does good work, when we let him

Tom