Poem: Almost Monochrome

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Almost Monochrome

Another day. Almost monochrome,
with just a touch of green cutting through the snow,
the slightest hint of spring.
due tomorrow, a date on the calendar,
something to laugh at as the temperature falls in the night.

Another day. Almost monochrome.
Your mood and the distant trees are kissing cousins,
not quite black, the markers of boundary lines
between land and moods.

You smile at them. At the grey.
At the evening fog rising from the creeks.
For this is what they do not know,
those who paint you and your depression in black and white
when it is anything but.

For after a long season of cold and grey,
your eyes change. You see color like a cat sees light
in the midnight air.
Even the smallest hue burns your retinas
and makes them tear down your cheeks,
a beauty more treasured in the grey season
than in any other.

Another day. Almost monochrome,
but not quite.

About this poem. 

One of the misconceptions about people with depression is that we feel no joy and are never happy. Those who know us know that is not true. Happiness is perhaps more rare in our lives, but it is treasured all the more because of that rareness.

The picture was taken near West Rupert, Vermont, a couple of small towns down the road from me.

Tom

Poem: Temporary Casualties

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Temporary Casualties 

I am dragging this morning. There is no poetry in me.
The words in me are discordant,
bully words,
the words of people who loved me intermittently,
intimate allies one minute,
aware of each weak point in body and soul,
intimate enemies the next, just as
aware of each weak point in body and soul.

That’s what I know. Bullies have a particular power.
They know best, just where to place the knife,
and they know they do not have to twist the blade.
They know
I will do it for them.

“Talk to me like you love me.” I once told one
of these off and on lovers.

It is confusing, love with a bully.
And in the end, they leave you,
their voices become yours.
You become them, far better
at evisceration than they ever were,
far more persistent.

At sixty-two, I know them well.
I listen to them,
just long enough
to separate out the voices,
to know which are yours,
and which belong to the devils
who wish so fervently to become demons
and possess us.

It’s not going to happen.
(not a poetic phrase is it? It sounds
more like a bad adventure movie, still)
They have had their moment.
But it is past.
Like a Celtic army, they can scream and paint themselves
with false righteousness before the charge.

I am no longer unarmed.
My mildness is no longer weakness.
It has been built of wounds and wisdom.
I have survived and I know the difference
between the devil’s insidious song
and my own.
Let them charge with their painted faces and spears.
I will laugh as I pull the trigger
and begin my day,
each word I do not feel is a roman discipline.
I write them and watch the lies fall,
temporary casualties.

Better them than me.
I stretch.
I push aside the cat at the foot of the bed.
I get up.
There is a life to lead.
Until tomorrow’s battle,
I am safe.

About this poem.

Another dark morning conquered. This is what I do. Every day. I left out the victory dance, but my kids call it dad dancing and it’s not a pretty sight.

Laughing with joy.

Tom

Poem: Are You Happy, she asks

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Are You Happy she asks

“Are you happy?” she asks.
A tendril of dark hair drapes across her face
and her green eyes are clear.
Her shoulders peek out from the covers.

“I am.” I say. “But it is not that simple.”
Few things are, you have learned,
despite a life spent simplifying.
It is a battle for the moment, this thing called happiness,

A battle against traumas long past
and the chemical stew gone mad inside your head,
a watercolor wash of indigo and fog designed
to color all you see.

It is a battle fought inside the mind, invisible to onlookers,
A war fought for focus, for the ability to see deep into the night
and see light. A fight to claim each moment as it is,
to quell the voices in your head that have only one color,

and replace it with a palette of primary colors,
A battle over who chooses the colors, who chooses
the lens you see through; who chooses
whether you can see the moment in all its glory, or not; W\who chooses

the music you listen to, who chooses
what to do with the wild beauty around you, who chooses
even the taste of the coffee you sip early in the morning; who chooses
how you will live the next moment, and no more.

Distance scares you. That is the truth.
So much can happen. Much of it has.
And while you have survived the accidents
and wars that have fallen in your lap, you still feel the scars.

“You looks sad.” she says.  And she is right.
Indigo blue colors my world.
A sad clarinet in the night plays background music.
I could lose myself in their seductive whispers.

But I do not. Or at least rarely do. I take the drum
and pat out a rhumba beat.
I dance as I toss splotches of yellow at the canvas.
I brush aside the tendril of dark hair,

and savor the firm warmness of her presence.
These things are real. They are here, in this moment.
And they are alive, even when the moment passes
and we begin our day.

“Are you happy?” she says.
I smile as the tendril falls back down between her eyes.
I feel her lips as I kiss her gently. They taste of salt air and morning.
It is complicated. It is simple. It is, I realize, true.

“Yes.”

About this poem.

Being in love and fighting depression is a complicated stew. When someone enters your life that simplifies the recipe, it is a miracle.

Dancing at the diner,

Tom

Poem: One Day Closer

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One Day Closer

It is the third day of a rare February melt
and still, the snow remains, grey in the morning,
the colors of old grass and wheat still buried,
just out of sight.

The creeks are high. Blocks of ice catch on fallen trees.
The water is angry, awakened from its winter sleep.

Today will tell the tale.
Another day of melt and the colors will return.
The landscape will burst with the browns and yellows,
almost dead things will become bright in comparison
to the smothering white snow.

You stand and look across the lake.
You feel the breeze for a hint of warmth
and find none. It is winter still
and you tighten your scarf around your neck.
The day will be a long one, cold and hard, but
one day closer to spring.

About this poem

About Winter. About life.

Tom

Thoughts: Icons and Strange Light

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Last Friday, the woman I love and I took an artist’s date and went to Clinton, Mass to visit the Russian Icon Museum. It is a place we have been before, but there is something about these hand-painted panels (typically painted on wood panels) that have always sung to me.

I actually have a Russian Icon in my house, and the discovery that both the woman I love and I have an affinity for icons was one of our first connecting points.

It’s an odd little museum. Outside it is a small industrial building, the sort of thing you see in New England towns. Perhaps a small factory or warehouse from the turn of the century (1900’s, not 2,000’s). Inside it is remarkably modern and airy, with lighting that changes color every few minutes, from reddish to blue-ish to greenish to purplish and back.

Personally, I find the ever-changing light colors a distraction. The lighting changes the way the rooms, and more importantly, the icons appear. Being someone who likes to study, not just look at, paintings that touch me, the shift in color makes it hard for me to fully see the artwork. I am constantly trying to see past the hues of the lights to the colors of the paintings.

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There is likely a reason for the colors. Perhaps the colors of the light replicate colors from the stained glass windows of churches where these icons may have hung, and the lights are designed to let us see the paintings in context.

At times I found myself looking closely at this icon or that icon. At other times, I stood back and looked at them, noting how they changed as the light changed.

It is, after all, all about the light.

Most artists will tell you that. So will most photographers. Light changes how we see everything. And the light changes throughout the day, taking any landscape or vignette and always, subtly shifting how it’s seen, how it’s experienced, how we end up feeling.

I am a strong believer (and brain science is starting to catch up and verify this common belief.) that how we choose to see things in our life, the light, and color we choose to paint the events in our lives, change how our live actually are, just as light on a landscape changes how we see the landscape itself. The same section of farms and mountains can be alternately washed out, harsh, warm, inviting, hopeful – all according to the light.

Which is right? Which is true? The dark? The hopeful? All of them? Yeah, you can get all philosophic on this one – generations of philosophers have filled stacks of books wrestling that puppy down, or at least trying to.

I downloaded some of the pictures I took at the museum this morning. Each icon was bleached with the color of the moment. I spent some time in software trying to bring the image to the way I believed they would look in uncolored light, trying to wrestle them down to how I saw them. That’s what you see in the top image of an early 1700’s icon.

And we do the same with our words and thoughts in real life. We choose the colors of the life we live. We choose what light to see things in. It’s not that there are not things in our life that suck and things in our life that make us rejoice, but even at the extremes, we have a choice of the crayons we use, the light we apply, and in the end, how we see things.

I’ve wrestled with that at times. Bouts of depression paint a pall on how I see things. Some days the depression light is a faint one, easy to “photoshop” out with positive thoughts and actions. At times, it’s a black fog, with everything seeming negative and ugly. On those days, it takes more work.

I’ll do the work, just as I did the work on the top picture. I want to choose how I see things, I don’t want an artificial pall, or the rest of the world, or you or anyone else to choose how I see. I did that too long.

Photoshop is easy. Carving away the artificial light we all carry around with us is hard. But it’s worth it. I like the way I choose to see, even it takes some work.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

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Poem: Manna, Diners and the Nick of Time

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Manna, Diners and the Nick of Time

Joplin on the stereo.
Coffee to the side.
At the counter, they talk of fish and childhoods.
The tables are empty.

Blues guitars fill the air
and you are tempted to sway,
eyes closed,
to lose yourself in the music,

It is hard this morning.
Hard to start. Hard to breathe and hard
to begin.  Darkness, like sludge,
fills your lungs and fills your mind

and you are nearly overwhelmed.
Even the music is your enemy,
penetrating too deep, too loud. a threat
to swallow you and beat you into the ground.

But you are old and tough.
A veteran of the dark wars.
Too dumb to surrender, too wrapped up in the battle
you begin to write, each work

another bar in the prison that will,
for a day at least,
keep the demons at bay, captured
by careful punctuation and word magic,

A thing stronger than you,
white magic, rarely beautiful, peculiarly powerful,
you weave them even when you do not feel them,
you grow stronger, less from effort than allowing,

of bearing your breast to the demons and God alike
and trusting God’s breath to come faster
and stronger, and always, only,
in the nick of time.

About this poem. 

Manna, for those of you who are not Christian, or are long lapsed, is the bread-like substance that God gave the Jews each day after they had left their slavery in Egypt. They could not save it, for it would rot. They had to trust that each day he would give them just enough. And he did.

That is the way I have led my life the past decade or so. Dark days or bright days, even when I am not feeling it days, I have to trust that I will get enough inspiration (literally “God’s breath”) to get through.

And when I am not feeling it? I do it anyway.

It’s amazing how that works. In the doing it anyway, in the trusting that by doing and living and creating, good happens. Energy comes. Depression is pushed back. Joy sneaks in. And from the little death of each morning, life creeps in. Always in the nick of time.

Rarely before.

Tom

PS – The picture has nothing to do with Manna or diners, but it reminded me of what my day feels like when I wake up each morning. Dark. Regimented. Lacking life. But if I put away how it looks and feels in the morning, also full of potential.  The picture was taken near my home in West Pawlet, Vermont.

Poem: Morning Snow

 

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Morning Snow

Early in the morning, you wake.
You walk outside,
clamber up the quarry,
survey the valley
that place you have come from.

There is snow on the moss,
on the slate,
a light feathering, no more,
and the clouds around you are dark.

You stare at the snow, unsure
whether it is melting, or
a harbinger of a storm yet unseen.

About this poem.

Often, when you fight depression, you wake in what most people would call a funk, and you have no idea if it will lift like fog or fall like a heavy winter snow. Most of the time, which way it ends up is up to me. Thus my early morning battle cry each day as I get out of bed: “It’s showtime!”

Outside there are several inches of fresh snow. But the picture was taken at Cape Cod in March.