Poem: Not Quite a Postcard

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Not Quite a PostCard

The house lacks some of the trappings.
No bright green wreath hangs on the door.
The porch is not festooned with twinkling lights.

There are lights on the tree.
That much got done.
and there are presents, a smattering of them, underneath.

It is a different kind of Christmas again,
a readjusting to time and distance and children
new and old, steeped in their own lives,

a time to create new traditions,
to celebrate what is new as the Christ-child,
to rejoice in the past as the laying of foundations,

new cities built on old, new layers of Christmas,
not the postcard, but vivid and new, scars showing,
like stained glass, full of color, letting the light in,

landmarks of a life lived,
well worth the celebration
as is the new.

And so we celebrate. We laugh. We understand
there are no endings, only a strange morphing, year to year,
part of the magic, part of the present, a thing to unwrap,

and sing hosannas that nothing is the same,
that we are not, after all, museum pieces,
but vibrant, alive, and growing still.

About this poem

Ever since my divorce a decade and more ago, Christmas has been different each year. I have spent them alone. I have spent them with children and with strangers. Decorations and the Sunday feasts have changed depending on the comings and goings of increasingly grown-up kids with faraway lives.

This year is no different. A new mix of family to celebrate the day with. Change again.

Maybe that is part of the lesson of Christmas, that day when a child was born and everything changed. Including us.

To my Christian friends and readers, have a blessed Christmas.  I will be back a day or two after the holiday.


PS – the picture was taken nearby, on the outskirts of Manchester, Vermont. All year round, it reminds me of a postcard.

Poem: Where Broken Things Lie


Where Broken Things Lie

In the attic, there is light.
Not much, granted,
just a flare here and there from the small windows
that punctuate the walls at each end,
spotlights driven by sun and time,
each hour a new exposure,

for this is the place where broken things lie,
the things we save,
knowing few of them will ever emerge
from this dark prison.

Former treasures no longer valued enough to use.
Broken things burdened with memories, a vague value.
History you would rather forget, but can’t quite.
They all cling to you with silent chains, these relics
of who you once were.

They will gather dust here.
They will rust and rot.
But they will not die.
Be sure of that.
The sun will rotate with the hours,
and each piece of you will have its moment on the stage,
reminding you
nothing ever dies
no matter how deep you bury it.

About this poem

More about memories, trauma and dreams than things.

The picture was taken at the Shaker Villiage in Hancock, Mass.


Poem: A Subtle Wind


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.


Another Move

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The cat is not happy.  It’s moving time at the Atkins household.

No, I am not leaving my beloved Vermont.  But my daughter is settling into her first apartment. She took a job down south (Her beloved place.) and yesterday I packed up a trailer full of furniture to haul down her way.

I was probably a cat in another life. I hate moving. I like to get settled. Get things the way I like them and forget about it. But this is a good move. An exciting one. a positive one. And that makes a difference.

Twenty-five years ago, I thought I had found my dream house, a great big rambling farmhouse on the edge of Troutville, Virginia. Built in the 1790’s it was a semi-fixer upper, but it had everything I ever wanted in a house – history, big rooms, high ceilings. It had presence.

But life has a way of reshuffling our dreams. Fourteen years, two kids, four cats and one divorce later, I moved to a small 800 square foot basement apartment. It was such a terrible thing for me, re-arranging life and my space at the same time.

Actually, it was a charming little place. It was in an old college building, and you had to go under the front stairs to get to the apartment. You could clean it with a good sneeze. And if my furniture barely fit? Who cared? It was just me. But still, moving there was, I felt, a tragedy.

My next apartment was just 300 feet away, in an old building that at one time (1800’s) had been the county jail. You could look at the windows and see where the bars had once been attached. It was larger (my furniture finally fit) and cozy. It had a fireplace. Still, whether you are moving 300 feet or three hundred miles, moving is a pain. Pack everything up. Haul it. Unpack. A week or two of chaos.

But, this move did not have the pain of the first. There was not the pain and confusion of a 25-year marriage ending. Unlike the move to the apartment under the stairs, this move was made by choice. And that made all the difference. I tolerated it fairly well. But I still didn’t like it.  I really am like a cat.

Then, of course, there was the move to Vermont. An 11 hour drive away.

Actually, it was no worse than the 300 foot move. I still had to pack everything up and unpack everything. You know the drill, you’ve done it. Maybe more times than me.

I’ve been here 9 years now. I thought I was pretty much done with moving. But I had not factored in kids. You see, originally, my wife had custody of the kids. I got them on holidays and summers and such. I was, to my dismay, a bachelor again, at 54.

But life has a way or scrambling reality as well as it scrambles dreams. A year or two after coming here, my daughter decided to move up with me. So I moved her up. And a few years after that, my son made the same decision. Another move. Then four years of twice a year moves for my daughter in college in Virginia. And a little over a year ago I moved my son to college in Florida. Then my daughter moved from DC (where she had a job) back up to Vermont. And now, I am moving her back south to a new job, a new apartment and a new life.

I’m moved out.

But this is a good move. And it really does make a difference. When I moved out of the dream house to my cubby under the stairs, I was miserable. When the kids moved from Virginia to here in Vermont, they were miserable. It was more like a fleeing than a standard move. We had just a few short hours to pack up and move everything. (and everything was more than you can imagine. Teenagers have more stuff today than I ever did.). Those were not good moves.

This is a good move. New work. New place. New life. I am not so old that I can’t remember the excitement of that. In fact, it is still kind of fresh in my mind, though my last move was nine years ago.

It’s good for me too. My parents died a few years ago and I and my two sisters had to do what all families have to do, break up a household collected over fifty years. A lot of the things I took from the family home, I took because the kids wanted them.

Of course, the kids had no place to put them.

So my house has felt like a furniture warehouse the past few years. And now a lot of that stuff leaves. As I loaded the last piece of furniture on the trailer yesterday, I looked around the house. It’s still full. Minimalist that I am, I seem to have a furniture problem. Maybe I should look up furniture addicts anonymous.

So out goes another load (this is not my first). My cat is not happy. She believes that all flat surfaces belong to her. And I was taking her flat surfaces. Lots of them. She sat firmly on the furniture yesterday as I packed the trailer.

She’ll adjust. I’ll adjust. Change is good for us, to a point. It is movement in a world where it is too easy to become stagnant.

That’s what I have learned in all these moves. Whether I wanted them or not, good came from each of them. I grew in all of them. Yes, I like growing comfortable in a place. Yes, I resist moving and change with the best of them.

But not too much. Adventure lies in every packed box, every mile moved, every re-arranged room. It keeps our brain nimble. It moves us forward.

Even if we are kicking and screaming, or like the cat, perched with a scowl on our face. I mutter that this is my last move. I am too old for this.

But we all know I am lying.

Be well. Travel wisely,



Poem: Uncertain Season

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Uncertain Season

The bones of the old house moan in the wind.
The barn begins to flood.
The mere act of walking becomes a task,
the slogging through mud, long frozen.

This is the way of winter
This is the way of spring.
The thaw is never easy
and for a brief time, you are unsure

which season
to yearn for.

About this poem

Driving home from Massachusetts today, the temperature hit 32 degrees. It has been so cold here – several days hovering around -20, that the snow and ice must have been eager to thaw. As I passed fields and farms, I saw half-melted ice, the dark melting water below, the last of the frozen snow skimming the surface.

It won’t last. Winter came early and hard here in Vermont, and we have a few months of it yet, but the mess reminded me of what we call flood season up here and the uncertainty of weather, and beyond weather.

And it made me think of not just weather, but change. That wonderful, scary thing.

Smiling at the thought,


Poem: Improv



You are a cat-like creature
who never moves the furniture,
who likes places where the dust settles,
where you can walk in the night, sure
of your footing, sure that even not seeing,
everything is in its place.

But that is not your fate.
You live in a world of transition,
of comings and goings and rearranging,
constant rearranging,
a place without peace,
never quite finished, never still.
never the same long enough
to be able to move and flop unthinking
without fearing a fall
or stumbling in the dark,
never quite sure where anything is
at any given moment.

It is good for you, this chaos,
even if it is uncomfortable.
You are not allowed to become stagnant,
stale, certain.
You are forced to always be thinking,
to grow despite yourself
and it all bleeds
into the rest of your life,
a strange swilling of space and color and purpose,
a mystery to be solved, a playfulness,
improv theater,
half comedy, half tragedy,
where the audience and actors all hang on the edge of their seats
for what’s next.

About this poem. 

I am a guy who never moves the furniture. I like my routine. But the last few years, and the last year in particular, there has been no routine, change and more change in every aspect of my life has become my norm.

Even the furniture and walls are re-arranging themselves constantly. In the last year alone, only two rooms in my four bedroom house have not been re-arranged dramatically, a symbol, it seems, of life in my world.

I haven’t decided if it’s good or bad yet. It just is.


Poem: A Loss of Anchors


A Loss of Anchors

You have been too long at sea,
accustomed now to the shift beneath your feet,
the constant adjusting
to wind and wave that shapes your journey,
too accustomed to the lack of firm ground,
to cramped quarters and distant shores
that come and go.

You are sensitive to the moment
when the anchor pulls loose from the muck
and you are no longer bound.
You feel it in your legs,
in your gut. You know, without doubt,
that once again, you are cut loose,
to choose between drifting
and setting sail.

About this poem

My life the last ten years. (sways with sea legs).