Poem: Daily It Comes

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Daily It Comes

This is your battle,
fought daily,
to find peace
in a world coming undone
like the second coming,
unwanted truths rising
like the tide.

About this poem

Written after reading one of my favorite poems of all time, The Second Coming, by W. H. Auden.

My life is a constant struggle for peace, something I seem to need more than most people. In the country and time we live in today, there is not much of that to be found.

The picture was taken at Hampton Beach, NH.

And that is where poems come from.

Poem: Still Battles

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Still Battles

Come, sit.
It is a long journey to peace,
and the way is hard.
From time to time,
you need rest.

Rest from the journey
that takes you nowhere,
that changes nothing
except
how you see.

Rest.
The journey inward is arduous.

Unlearning, it seems is harder
than learning,
and there is much of it to be done.
Many tears to shed.
Many lies to untangle.

There are barriers to climb.
There are those who wish you
their particular blindness,
who flood you with their truths,
their lies,
and defy you to tell the difference.
Confusion is their friend.
Confusion is your enemy
and they depend upon it
to keep you in thrall.

But you have made the journey.
you have learned to sit with the pain.
You have learned how often explosions lie.
You have learned to be still
To trust the silence
more than the noise.

It is not an easy thing.
The battle leaves wounds
that heal only partially.
Healing comes slow.
It is never complete, and still,
you journey.
You listen,
You, finally, see
just enough to know
this is not all there is,
that peace is not found in grand resolutions
or the snarl of hate.

It is found in the quiet of the river.
It is found in the crook of your lover’s arms.
It is found in the babble of children,
the purr of a small cat,
in a cup of coffee,
or the perfume of phlox in the evening,
in the patience
to be still.

Do not mistake stillness for ease.
Because the demons are all lies,
does not make them less treacherous.
Because they live within,
they are no less damaging or easier
to kill.
No. The ones that live within are harder still to battle.
Their death comes harder because part of you dies with them,
and at first, you are unsure
what will replace them.

So sit with me.
Breathe in the meadow.
My love will fill you.
And yours will fill me.
And in the quiet, we will find more than peace.
We will find
ourselves.

About this poem.

A poem of the soul, of God’s love, and our love for each other. A poem of my journey, and others. A love poem that goes beyond people around us to ourselves and the truths we believe most.

The picture was taken at The Clark Art Institute.

Tom

Poem: Able, finally

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Able, finally

Quiet
Waves so gentle
you can barely hear them.
The wind, a whisper.

Half a dozen ducks swim silently
past blue water and indigo skies,
a beautiful exorcism,

your demons quiet,
their twisted truths somehow purged,
evaporated,
allowing you to pretend,

at least for this one moment,
that they have died,
finally,
never to return,

If you think,
you know the truth,
that their gnarly teeth and twisted tongues
are eternal,

a mix of chemicals and trauma,
that rises and falls with the moon,

But now, in this moment, they are subdued,
and you are as you were meant to be,
lost in the moment,
able,
finally
to feel in safety.

About this poem

Peace comes hard. Writing about it, for me, is more difficult that writing about struggles.

Strange huh? And a little sad, I think.

Tom

Poem: A Bloody Refusal

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A Bloody Refusal

What if I refused to play?
Refused to hate, refused to conquer,
refused to raise my sword
and leave you as bloody
as you left me,
refused to seeth, insisted
on letting the firestorm pass over me
and bear the burns
instead of fighting back and searing your flesh
as surely as you have marred mine?

What if I prayed for you each day
like a monk’s daily devotions,
if I felt your sadness each time your whip
cut into me and cried less
for myself than your refusal to release yourself
from the agony of your own choices.

What if I refused,
yes, I say it again, refused
to sacrifice my soul on the altar of your hate
and simply bore it without words, without the truth
that would scourge you far worse
than the blood you have let from my tender flesh,
the blood that has run across the floor,
and marred the places I live and love.

Am I then a sacrifice?
A fool?
Is my silence mistaken for weakness?
Does it matter?

Ah that then, is the crux.
Does it matter, this refusal of mine,
this silent madness?
Is it wisdom?
Is it faith?
Is it a lost art? Is it better lost
or should I join the frey
and unleash the truth and anger that bubbles
like poison
just beneath my placid face?

I sigh beneath my scars.
Never sure.
Watching my blood seep into the floorboards
and staining each and every one,
life taking it’s leave with each crack of your whip,
laughing,
not quite mad,
not quite saint, something different,
invisibly human,
body broken,
soul soaring,
I fly,
Broken wings and all.

About this poem

Personal and political. Both. Either.  A poem of faith and wonder. Tainted by Matthew 5:5, a verse I struggle with constantly.

Tom

Poem: Strange Zen

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Strange Zen

Bolts of cloth,
one stacked on the other:
art
without meaning to be,
a picture of peace,
a memory of grandmothers’ feather beds.

You stand,
less looking
than soaking in the strange zen,
their aura, something
perhaps
only you can feel,

and only in this moment.

About this poem

I can’t sew a lick. But I’ve always loved going into fabric stores and seeing the patterns and colors. A poor man’s museum perhaps.

It began when my mother used to take me to Joanne’s Fabrics as a small boy, and it continues to this day. I have a friend, Maria Wulf, who is a fabric artist and when I get to visit her studio I can stand and look at the piles of cloth for what probably seems, to outsiders, a bit too long of a time. This particular stack of cloth was at the Shaker Villiage in Stockbridge, Mass.

Tom

Thoughts: A Pile of Rocks

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If you ride in my old Isuzu Trooper, you might notice a small cache of white stones in the gearshift console. That might surprise you, because my kids are grown past the point where they pick up every rock and leaf for their never ending and slightly abstract childhood collections.

No, the rocks are mine. I picked them up while walking the beaches at the end of Cape Cod a week or so ago. They are common stones. White, rounded, almost like tiny eggs. Go to the beaches today and you would easily find many, many more of them.

I picked them up the first night I arrived in Provincetown. It was nearing sunset and I had finished a six hour drive to come this place I had never been, to come to the ocean’s edge for the first time in many, many years. I had no agenda. I didn’t even know really why I was there, just that I had heard the ocean calling to me relentlessly for months, and I have learned that when that inner voice pesters me for months on end, I should pay attention to it. It often knows things my conscious mind does not.

I dumped my suitcase in the room, and drove out to Race Point, the corner of the island where it turns from the bay to the ocean, and I walked. There were, I was told, Wright whales off the shore, but that night, I did not see them. There were also, I was told, seals that lazed around on the beaches, but none of those were in sight either. There was water, sky and sand. And right near the place where sea and sand came together, there was a row of stones, washed up by a confluence of tide and a dip in the sand.

The rocks were a mix of colors, most of them dark. Grey. Black. Dark brown. And a few were brilliant white.

Perhaps they were not really so brilliant, but the combination of a low-lying sun and the water still glistening on them as the tide receded make them sparkle and in the midst of all the dark colors and dark sand, they were like jewels. I picked one up, then another, and another until I had a small handful of them. They were worn smooth from who knows how many years of being washed back and forth in the sand. They had a gentle texture, smooth, and yet not perfectly smooth at the same time. Like velvet, captured in stone.

I carried those stones in my coat pocket for miles down the beach, and then miles back. From time to time, I would pull them out and look at them, still glistening in the falling sun. It was like holding magic in my hands.

Most of the time, when I travel, it takes a day or two to spool off the pressures and speed of regular life and sink into a different rhythm. That is something I take into account when I travel, that the first day may be a mixed bag of still engaged in the world left behind, and the world of a new place without schedules and responsibilities. Something about these storm-tossed stones, though, sent me to that peaceful place right away.

As I finished my walk, I took them out of my pocket and dropped them, one by one into the console. They were dry now, but still white, with that wonderful texture worn smooth by time. They have been that way ever since.

They have become a touchstone for me. A visible symbol of the peace I felt as I walked along the cold, lonely shores of Cape Cod. Not everyone is cut out for aloneness, or long stretches of time looking inward. Some with their monkey minds are bored without activity and things to do. Some avoid that alone time because it causes us to face things, sometimes hard things, we do not what to face. No, not everyone is cut out for it. But for me, it is like manna, refreshing, and renewing.

Yes, I think as I walk lonely stretches or hike mountain paths. At least, I think sometimes, turning my life around like a jewel, examining every cut and facet, noticing imperfections and beauty, wondering at a life and a journey that has brought me here, where ever here is. But at other times, I do not think at all. I simply let everything go, including myself. I disappear, even to myself.

I did a lot of disappearing while in Cape Cod. Walking without being aware of it. (until later when my legs reminded me that I should do more of this.), not seeing the beauty, not feeling the bitter cold wind. I don’t really know what happens when I disappear. It is not a conscious thing. Unlike meditation, where you seek a certain simple “being”, this is a “not being”. I am not in the moment. In fact, I am not.

I don’t know what happens, but I know it is healing. I don’t get in the way of myself, or of God, and I can heal without being concerned about either the brokenness, or the whys, or the hows.

As I get older, I have been amazed at how nicely life unfolds when I don’t press it, and simply allow it. Over the past several years, I have transitioned from a life where I pushed everything, where I thought it was my job in life to make things happen. I was that way in most everything, my work, my church work, my family, my creative endeavors. And I got a lot done.

But I lost some of that drive after my divorce. Part of my brokenness, I suppose. Or at least, I saw it that way at the time. Or maybe it was the depression that overtook me during that time. I just seemed to lack something that I had had before, the energy, the drive. And it’s never really come back.

My expectation, when I never got it back, was that with the losing of that drive, my life would dry up. I would not be as successful as I had been. I would not do as good as work. And I had begun to adjust my life to the idea that that life was diminished, and adjusting myself to that idea. But that is not the way it played out. Yes, there was a wallowing time, a time of change and struggle. But over the past few years, that drive was replaced by something else – readiness.

What I mean is that while I don’t push, I live in an expectation that good things will happen, that opportunities will show themselves for me to do good, interesting productive work; that I don’t need to force being a good parent – the chances will come; that I don’t have to make myself create, I just have to be ready to take inspiration and run with it. The key is to be ready, and always looking for chances to do… anything I want to do. My creative work is not work any more. It’s more a flow. I just get out of the way and let it happen. And it’s better than it was a decade ago. Authenticity has power.

Don’t ask me how it works. Don’t ask me why. I call it “The Manna Effect”, after the time the Israelites were in the desert and God fed them with Manna, a bread-like substance. Manna was strange stuff. It showed up in the morning and you could eat your fill, but you could not save it up. Try to and it would rot. So you just had to have faith that it would show up the next morning. For someone like me, it was an anathema. I believed you had to make things happen. That’s what ny father told me. That’s what society told me. That’s how I lived, always looking for ways to move my life forward.

But I spent a lot of time after my divorce “not doing”. Not from choice, just from a lack of drive. So many of the roles in my life, the reasons I had driven myself, were gone, and I did not know what to replace them with. I spent time in therapy. I spent time in thought. I spent time in prayer. I healed. Partially.

Maybe partially is not the right word. I healed….. differently. I became and am still becoming, something different. Less driven. Not less skilled. Not less successful. Not less good. Simply all those things without the NEED to succeed. Without the fear of failing that society breeds into us. I just did. And left the rest to God, to the universe, whatever you choose to call that life force that is beyond us. (In my case, it is always God, big G.). And it works out. Manna. No more than I need, always what I need. It used to scare the ever-loving hell out of me, but now, a decade later, I have come to trust it.

I forget to trust sometimes, however. Life piles on. Disappointments strike. Frustrations and mistakes and failings abound. And in those times, I need reminders. Touchstones that bring me back to that place of allowing life rather than forcing life. Reminders of blessings. Reminders of hope. Reminders to trust the Manna.

And this small pile of time polished white rocks is one of my touchstones. They won’t mean anything to anyone who rides with me. Just another one of Atkins’ quirks.

And I am full of them.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

Poem: Peace in the Midst of War

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Peace in the Midst of War

Nothing offsets the hate
except time
and truth
and your ability
to trust them both.

About this poem

I get surprisingly little hate, but when I do, it is venomous. That kind of spewing anger, which reminded me so much of my own father when his temper unleashed on me (a fairly regular event when I was young) used to crush me, really until the last few years.

Only once or twice in my life have I fought back. Both times I won, but when the conflict was over, I felt as though I had lost. So today, my tendency is to wait it out and trust who and what I am to talk louder and more eloquently than I can do with words.

It’s hard. It’s really hard. But in the long run, I believe it has worked. And I am way stronger than I used to be. I know if I need to fight… I can.

Today, I thank the haters, for making me that way. I didn’t at the time. But I do now.

Tom