Poem: The Pain of Winter

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The Pain of Winter

Seven degrees and the quarry lake is frozen.
The snow has become hard
and there are no tracks from the animals of the night.

The few remaining plants are mere stalks, dry and brittle,
dark counterpoints to the snow.

Behind you, down below, is warmth.
the woman you love is there, nestled
in the house you share.

You will go back soon enough,
but for now you need to be here,
where the cold seeps into your skin.

You need to feel the bitter wind,
the hurt of it. You need
the reminder

of life without place or love.  You vow
to never forget the pain of those years,
for in remembering your appreciation is that much greater.

Far up the quarry, you hear a lone coyote.
Its yips echo off the stone walls.
He will not be alone, you think;

neither of us was made for aloneness.
Not for long.  Even an introvert like you,
a man comfortable in empty spaces,

needs.

You stand for a time. You can feel the temperature fall.
You turn and walk down the icy path, back home,
back to her,

the pain of winter raw in your bones,
rejoicing that it is a temporary thing, and below,
spring awaits.

About this poem

I am the introvert’s introvert, comfortable in silence and empty spaces. But even I know I am better with someone. And best with the right someone.

This is a love poem to that right someone, the woman I love and who loves me.

Tom

Poem: Strangely Muted

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Strangely Muted

The flowers on the table are backlit by the sun
casting a strange tint to the colors,
bright, not quite real,
too like your life, all colors,
but strangely muted by the dark parts.

About this poem

Even in the best of time, there are dark parts. Even in the dark, there is color. Somehow by the grace of God, we survive both.

Tom

Thoughts: A Contradiction in Terms

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I am in a good place just now.

A year into my marriage, I am still in love. My daughter has recently moved and started a new job where she wants to be. She’s ridiculously happy. My son is halfway through his college time, doing well and planning for an exciting future.

It’s spring and the lilacs are in bloom. In the evenings, when I leave the doors open in my house, their perfume fills the air. The cat, holed up through a long winter, wallows in the sun. Neighbors are emerging from their winter homes and we’re all reconnecting. Recently, I got a lesson in forgiveness from a long-ago friend and it’s been a good thing. (Not all lessons are, after all.).

I have interesting work, and the prospects of new challenges are in the air.

It’s a rare thing when pretty much all the aspects of a complex and rich life are aligned and doing well at the same time. Certainly, it seems more often than not life is a strange dissonance of good and bad, easy and hard, clear and confusing.

From time to time, I write of depression here. I write because I fight it. I write because I find writing about it helps me. And in recent years, after hearing from readers, I write because I have learned that sharing my story helps others, if in no other way than to let them know they are not alone. I’ve even written a small book about my story, which, if notes from readers can be believed, has been helpful.

Here’s another side of depression. Even when things are good, depression does not go away.

A lot of people think depression is brought on by events, and to some extent that can be true – events, physical or emotional trauma and the like can certainly trigger it. But it’s not that simple, because depression is also caused by chemistry in our bodies. Medication helps. (I love my happy pills.) and therapy helps (Our brain can do a lot of self-healing with help.), but it’s not a situation where Badthings = depression, and Goodthings = No depression. Good or bad things are just one of a lot of factors.

Life being wonderful is certainly a help. No doubt about it. And I am crazy grateful right now.  But it doesn’t go away. It’s a chronic illness and all you do it manage it.

So to say “Life is wonderful.” and “Getting going was a battle today.” are not contradictory statements. They are just a fact of life for us who live with depression. But mostly we’ve learned to shut up about the depression. People tend to say “But your life is so good, what have YOU got to be depressed about.”.

I can remember hiking along the Appalachian trail once when I was in college. It was well into summer and the trees and the brush were thick and green. I was high on a ridge somewhere near Front Royal, Va. I knew there had to be amazing views, but the undergrowth was so thick, I wasn’t able to see them.

After miles and miles of walking in the tunnel of trees and undergrowth, I finally couldn’t stand it any longer. I plunged into the undergrowth. I got whacked by branches and there were some thorny things that cut into my legs as I pushed through the green prison.

Finally, I got to the edge of the ridge. There were rock outcroppings and I climbed on one. The panoramic view went on for miles and miles. I could see forever. Other mountains. Farms in the valley. A crisscross of country roads cutting into the landscape. And sky. So much sky.

It was glorious.

That’s how it is with us people fighting depression. There’s joy out there. We know it. But we have to work to get to it. Fighting the chemicals in our brain and the effects of those chemicals, we have to push through the undergrowth of our own minds to get to that joy.

But when we do, it’s glorious. All the more so because we had to work for it.

I woke up feeling sludgy this morning. But a call to the woman I love (who was in Mass this morning.), some time on the back porch listening to some very happy birds. A prayer of thanksgiving, even when I wasn’t fully feeling it.). Meditation on the porch. All that and I had cut through the brush.

I could feel the joy I am surrounded by.

Don’t feel sorry for me. Depression has taught me the value of joy. It’s worth the work. And I feel blessed that I have the tools to cut through the underbrush, thorns and all. Not everyone does. I have found new strengths in my weakness. I have a sense of value for even the small things that I lacked before depression hit me so many years ago.

Life is good and I am going to savor the view. It’s glorious. And I’ve earned it.

Be well. Travel Wisely,

Tom

Poem: Something More than Paper

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Something More than Paper

There is a chill in the air as you walk to the ocean.
Your feet crunch on stones and sticks.
Even here far from the shore,
the remnants of storms litter the path.

You feel her hand in yours.
You feel her presence, something more
than you expected. Perhaps more
than you deserve.

Neither of you are children.
You have lived and loved and lost.
You bear scars, tender and harsh,
deep as the bone. You understand

how life works, and how it doesn’t
and your rose colored glasses have fallen to the wayside
and shattered more times than you care to admit,
the path behind you pocked with broken glass.

But here you are. Improbable.
Improbable newlyweds, nearly a year past
the improbable wedding that tied the knot,
already bound to each other by something more

than paper and promises.
Her hand is in yours.
You lean into each other as you look to the next shoreline
and the horizon with its blue clouds and storms.

About this poem

The woman I love and I are coming up on our first anniversary. I debated titling the poem “Improbable Newlyweds”, but there’s been so much more to this first year than the giddiness of being in love, as nice as that is. “Something More than Paper” captured it better.

The picture was taken on Cape Cod.

Tom

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: 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