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: 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,


Thoughts: He’s Off!

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My son took off for college earlier this morning. He’ll make a stop and visit friends in Virginia for a couple of days, then we’ll meet up and drive the rest of the way to Florida to get him settled just outside of Orlando.

His school has no dorms, so he is living off campus. That means more stuff than the average kid, and so we’re taking two cars, both stuffed to the place where deep breaths are not allowed or even possible.

People have been asking me, right and left, if I was OK. He is, after all, the second and last of my kids to move out.

I am fine.

I am more than fine really. I am ready. Not that I was pushing him out the door. The last week before I went to college, my own Dad had me sleeping on the sofa while he transformed my bedroom into an office. We weren’t getting along too well by that point (something we fixed a few years later) and he was soooo ready for me to go.

But that’s not where I am. It was, I will admit, nice to find all the dishes that had disappeared in the two years he has been here, even if a couple of them needed chisels to get the stuff off of them. And it’s been nice finding the tools that likewise had gotten buried in the rubble that was his side of the upstairs.

Rubble? Oh yes, rubble. Let’s just say if that side of the upstairs had been an apartment, I would NOT be giving back the deposit. It will take me two or three days to make it livable again.

But that’s just stuff. And stuff does not matter as much as people. And he spent most of his last few days connecting and saying his goodbyes to the people that have embraced him since he came here two years ago.

Both of my kids left their mom and came to live with me at the end of their respective junior years in high school. Both came pretty broken. Both left to go off to college in good places after a year or two here. It’s been a testament to one of my core beliefs, that when people are valued for who they are, loved for who they are, they are free to become amazing.  And both of them have.

The boy that came here two years ago was a mess. He lived in a place of fear. He was afraid to just be who he was. I can remember, a week after he got here, asking him to take his dishes from the living room to the kitchen. He ducked his head, lowered his eyes and his whole body posture was one of fear of reprisal.  Every time we had a difference of opinion, his was delivered haltingly, as if waiting for the blow.

He thought slowly. He had trouble remembering things. Math, beyond the simplest things, was a struggle. His health was not good. In a way, he reminded me of the stray dogs you see on those heart-wrenching ASPA commercials that break our hearts so bad most of us go in the kitchen when they come on. His anxiety level was crippling. He was hesitant

People who see him now would not believe that of him. He’s got enough sass for half a dozen ordinary mortals. He’s smart, crazy smart. Complex math is second nature. His love of technology has turned into a wealth of knowledge that he can’t get enough of and is driving his choice of college and career. He is creative, and states his opinion, no matter how well founded or strange, with the passion only an eighteen-year-old can have.  He makes me laugh constantly.

Are some of the insecurities and fears he came with still there? Yes, they are. Those things don’t disappear. At best, you become equipped to deal with them, and he’s wisely accepted the help and done the work to become equipped.

He’s ready.

One of the things that he’s learned moving up here, is that moving to a new place can be invigorating. It can bring a new energy to us, even when are forced to move for painful reasons. He (and my daughter before him) did not move to Vermont to be with dear old dad. They came to get away from situations they were in. They only discovered that dear old dad had some redeeming qualities after they moved here.

And they both grew. Thrived. Got to grab hold of new possibilities. They grew into themselves, not into something someone expected them to be.,

One of the things my parents did really well, was let us kids grow up. They didn’t force the speed of it. They didn’t put artificial breaks on it. They let us grow at our own pace, and they let us go, grow up and make our own mistakes and claim our own victories.

Even if they didn’t get it. Heaven knows, my dad did not get me or my choices. English? Who goes to college in English? I should have gone into engineering or business. Those were a man’s subject. Get an MA in Poetry? Poetry? At a girls college? What kind of kid was this?

But you know what, he let me do it. And when I struggled, he was there, even if he wasn’t happy with my choices.

When my kids were small, they did what kids do. Grow. It’s crazy how fast small kids grow. I felt like I was buying shoes and clothes every week to replace the ones we bought the week before. My ex-wife used to tell them (and told them well into teenagerhood) “Stop growing!”.

To which I always said “Keep growing. It’s your job.”  We both said it so often, my kids would repeat both of them with us as we said them. A family joke.  that really is how I feel. Growth at their young ages (He’s 18. My daughter is 23) is now in their minds and emotions and what they learn and what they do for a livelihood. And it’s just as fast and ongoing as the growing out of shoes and clothes thing.  That’s the way it is supposed to be.

Only that really is how I feel. Growth at their almost grown up ages (He’s 18. My daughter is 23) is now in their minds and emotions and what they learn and what they do for a livelihood. And it’s just as fast and ongoing as the growing out of shoes and clothes thing.  That’s the way it is supposed to be.

And part of that growing is leaving. How else do you complete the work of becoming yourself? You pull away (most of) the safety net and dance on the high wire.

And part of my growth is the letting go.  I loved and love being a parent. I discovered in my divorce that I may have loved being a day-to-day parent more than I loved being a husband. Certainly, I mourned it more. And I rejoiced in it more when I got a second chance to finish raising my kids as they came back.

But for me too, just like with him, it’s a time to move to what’s next. And there’s plenty ahead to look forward to, to grow into, to expand and discover.

He’s ready.

I’m ready too.

He’ll make mistakes. So will I. That is part of growing. Growing is not some effortless path to somewhere, it’s a crazy roller coaster that somehow goes off the rails and goes back on again, while we scream and laugh and cry our way through it all.

He is off on his next step, two car loads of stuff and all. And I will be doing the opposite, cleaning out and getting rid of things. Beginning something new.

I wonder if he is as excited as I am?

Be well. Travel wisely,


PS: The picture above was taken on an early childhood trip with my kids to Disney, at an old British Pub in Saint Augustine where we used to stop for lunch on the way down. I am hoping we can stop there for lunch again, and grab a shot of us together now.

Poem: New Lands

African Delta

New Lands

The first time your feet touched foreign soil
you expected more difference,
to feel more out of place and lost
and less like you had come home
to a place you had never been before.

Life became a puzzle, the figuring out of signs
and places, strange foods and drink.
There was an Alice in Wonderland feel
as every ordinary thing became new,
the simplest act a new discovery.

Landscapes. Flowers. Homes. Roads.
The buying of foods. The foods themselves.
The smells! The colors! Ah the colors!
Rediscovering green in England.
Sunlight in Italy. Beautiful mutedness in Amsterdam.
Munich’s rainy nights of light.
Colors and fashion and commerce
that do not exist in your quiet corner of the universe.

It is exhausting, all this newness.
And exhilerating your brain,
once so comfortable, suddenly challenged,
unsure and eager, both,
history and fantasy and film suddenly
the stuff of reality,
Stone you can touch,
lawns your bare feet can walk on,
Strange animals that come to your oustretched hand.
Tastes that change your very concept of food.

And so it is that you come to this place in your own land
where change is bearing down like a summer storm,
and you prepare your heart for all that is new,
half afraid, and half eager as a child,
wondering what new thing
you will become.

About this poem

Life is changing. Again.

I love to travel. I would be happy traveling all the time.

That place of half fear, half anticipation is pretty much my constant state.

The painting is titled “African Delta.” It is by Sandra Spahr and is on display at the Southern Vermont Arts Center.

And from that mix, this poem.