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Tom Atkins Oct 24
The Squeaking of Hinges

It is cloudy with a spit of unexpected rain
as you make your way to the barn,
unhooking the latch pulling the door. Open.

It creaks. The hinges are old and iron,
They rust without care, and need to be used
to stay limber. You have been gone a time

and they are stiff with neglect.
Still, they open. And as the week of your presence
falls back into the routine of letting animals in and out,

the hinges will fall back into their comfortable habits.
They will grow quiet as you oil them and use them,
until you no longer notice them in the morning

and nothing is left but you
and the wildstock.
I have been away a few days. I used to be terrified when I had been away from my writing for a while, even for just a few days. Terrified that like an unwatered plant, my ability to write would dry up and die. There is a long story behind that that I will leave for another time.

I know better now. Rusty is not dead. Far from it. At times, it brings new color.

Tom Atkins Oct 17
Empty and Armed.

Early in the morning and you walk in the sand.
Near the shore it undulates, God’s art,
renewed each morning at the whim of weather and tides.

You walk in the sand. Your foot prints leave divots.
Water seeps in. Tiny ***** scurry, almost invisible.
If you look carefully, you can see their tracks
before they disappear into their tiny burrows.

You walk. The waves whisper. It is a quiet morning.
No one else is on the beach.
Just you, your God and your demons.

The demons disperse like dandelion seeds,
unable to hold on in the vast emptiness.
They become as lost as you once were.
lost in the horizon, their claws rendered useless

as you ignore them.

You become lost too. Lost in the wash of the waves.
In the long stretches of sand, in the place you walk
beyond foodprints.

It is worth the walk. Worth the ache in your aging legs.
to empty yourself. To find yourself.
To find what is left when you let everything else go
and join the demons on the wind.

It is worth the walk.
And too, worth the walk back.
For that is part of it.
You cannot live here forever.
You were not made to be a monk in the desert,
only a pilgrim.
There is a world that needs your meger talents,
and you come back to it
both empty
and armed.
I have just come back from a few days at Cape Cod. The effects have not yet worn off, and that is a good thing.
Tom Atkins Oct 1
the biggest step forward
is a step back,

to find the place
you left the path,
following someone else’s journey
instead of your own.
I was about 14. I was on a hike with a large group of Boy Scouts. We came to a fork in path. It wasn’t marked clearly, so we picked one, and off we went. A couple of hours later, it became clear to some of us that we were on the wrong path.

A few of us went back, to cat calls and ridicule, found the fork and went the other way. The bulk of the group stayed the course and went forward. It turned out our little band was right. We had a glorious hike, great views, and came back to the parking lot at the bottom of the mountain at the time we expected to.

Five hours later the other group wandered in, bedraggled, tired, having walked and wandered all over the place, with no views and finally having to use their compasses and cutting across the mountainside without a path to get back to us.

It is a lesson I have carried and had to apply several times in life.

Sometimes we have to go backwards to go forward. And there is no shame in that.

Tom Atkins Oct 1
Dust on the Clocks

Three clocks stand on the mantle.
Four generations of time keepers
stand still.

The mantle clock with it’s graceful wooden arch
reminiscent of cathedrals, complete
with hand painted dial and brass pendulum
belonged to your great grandparents,
one of two things in your home
that came from the plantation they once owned
before the civil war swept through
and began their long, slow decline.
It chimed the hour when you were growing up,
it’s strand spring driven mechanism
sonorous when it rang, and yet somehow
almost tinny.

There is another, from your grandfather’s house.
Faux marble, a bit too bright and gaudy for it’s time,
a tiny arched gravestone, you wind it
and the clock ticks annoyingly, steadily,
never quite keeping perfect time.
According to your grandfather, it never did,
It came from a world’s fair, he once told you,
one of only a couple trips he made
that took him far from his little farm villiage,
His wanderlust never quite fit in there,
and though rarely fed, it was a memory worth having
despite the clock’s being terrible at its job.

The last clock is small. A tilted block. More recent.
A gift you brought back to your parents
from your first trip overseas. A thank you
for feeding your own wanderlust early,
of making you a traveler and wanderer,
willing to be uncomfortable in another’s world for a time
in exchange for the growth each journey brings.
It sat on the desk in their den
until the day the last of them died,
before coming back to you, this small reminder
silent with its electric motor. Almost invisible
except for the mark it left on your soul.

The clocks have dust on them.
You are not the best housekeeper
and time means less to you now than it once did.
Painfully you have learned the lesson
of deadlines and plans destroyed again and again.
There is only now. Here. This moment.
The rest is illusion. A beautiful construction,
artful as the clocks. Full of memories.
Full of promise. And nothing more.
have always been told that I have a difference sense of time than the rest of the world. Maybe that is true, one of the lessons of a life of interruptions and errors. I can keep a deadline with the best of them, but that is not where I live. I live in the now. I’ve had enough of life blow up on me, and enough of life provide me with glorious surprises, to know that’s about all we can count on.

On my blog, there is a picture of three clocks that accompany this poem. The clocks in the picture are in my office at home. The stories in the poem are true.

Tom Atkins Sep 17
“Put it out there.” she said,
that first therapist, the one who saw you
at your blackest, every sin and flaw
laid out to this perfect stranger in some blind faith,
or more truthfully,
in your desperate need for confession.

You learned the hard way the corrosion
of pretending perfection. It’s corrosion
on you and all you touched. But the whole idea
of peeling the layers off, one by one, in public,
when you could barely admit your boils and brokenness yourself
seemed a whole new kind of madness
before you had cured the first kind.

“Put it out there.” she said.
“You are a creature of discipline,
and you feel a responsibility, even if only one or two reads
to continue writing.
The bloodletting will be your cure
and to do it in the market square
will help your healing. Trust me.”

I didn’t of course. Trust that is.
I was far from a place where I could trust anyone,
but too, I was desperate,
and so I began that slow strip tease
I continue today,

unwrapping layer after layer where anyone can watch,
never knowing where to stop exactly,
when enough is enough and when perhaps
I have moved to something too close to the flesh
where I will burn for my perfidy of truth telling
and when I do not strip enough away that no one cares.
It’s a strange game, poetry as therapy,
poetry as strip teases, but who knew,
fifteen years later,
that there were still layers left
It seems I always began publishing poems because of someone else. It really was my first therapist, fifteen years ago, who got me started. I was on the blogger platform then, and years later I had maybe 30 readers. Moving to WordPress six years ago and there are a lot more of you.

The poetry really is something of a strip tease. How much truth and how much fiction to make something worth reading, and still true at its core. It’s a strange thing and I don’t pretend to have it figured out yet. Thank you all for putting up with my grand experiment in public self therapy.


Tom Atkins Sep 3
You sit down with your coffee.
The short order cook is busy at the grill.
Things you cannot see sizzle.

There is music here. There is always musc here.
Eclectic and sometimes strange, rarely
what you would think of as morning music,
quirky and boppy with a bass beat you feel,
one of the benefits of a place run by musicians
instead of accountants.

The coffee is good. Rich. Almost, but not quite harsh.
Alive. A tonic for the past night’s dreams.
They were joyous things, your dreams,
full of blue skies and Abba,
interiours out of Architectural Digest,
beautiful and simple and white.
But always interrupted by betrayal.
You would wake, and insist on sleeping again,
hoping for a different ending that never bore fruit.

Better to wake. Better to shake off the lies of the night,
a power that rises only when you wake,
and like a soldier before battle, prepare yourself
for what is real.
Tom Atkins Sep 1
Build me a house with many windows.
A house with many doors
to let the air waft through on an autumn morning,
to let the light in, to let me see the world outside.

Do not hang any curtains.
Set the furniture looking out.
and if strangers look in, fine.
They will see what they will see,
what is there, not all of it Better Homes and Gardens.

I am done hiding in the dark. It does not suit me.
I am too old for such foolishness.
Too old for hide and seek.
So build me a house. A new house.
A place bright and open.
Let the dusty corners show.
Let the leftover coffee linger on the kitchen table.
Breathe in the air like a monk
learning to dance.
Some writers know where their words are going when they start.

Not me.


PS: On my blog this poem is paired with a picture of a barn. Not a house. But it has lots of windows! At the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, MA.
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