Poems by Tom McMillian 2018

TOM MCMILLIAN. When I’m writing poetry, I relish when my Muse visits me. I love the dance and the places, people, and emotions my writing reveal.

During the last five years as the Morris Arts board president, I’ve helped thousands of children nurture their artist souls. I’m ready to dig in and burnish my own.


Oh, rubbish!
You have no power here.
Begone, before somebody drops a house on you too!
Glinda the good witch of the North

I’ve had no such luck
No house has ever fallen on my witch

How can I break the curse?

I don’t want to be a yoyo
I’m sick of around the world
Walking the dog

I’m stuck on this roller coaster
Queasy of all the ups and downs

I’ve walked down this same street
Again, and again
I still fall in the same hole

It’s past due for ruby slippers and a different street.

The Pond

It’s a surprise
A gift
Don’t chase it

Slow your breath
Let it find you

In the darkening night
Look for the sacred pool
An ice-covered pond

Dare to move forward
Take languid strides

Not knowing
Not caring

When the ice breaks
Take no notice
Slip into the other world
Let the magic take you
The only sound


For 20 years, I hiked
The corporate straight and narrow

Thinking myself the maverick
But still singing the company song

A stalwart soldier
Overcoming each obstacle

Using all my energies and talents
To bring about my master’s vision

I weathered many mergers
Until I didn’t

Cast out into the land of Nod
Once a proud samurai, now ronin

I had lost the semblance of security
Long time colleagues and funding to do big things

I wondered who I was
Where to share my passion

Slowly I began again
This time my own master

Learning that falling on my face
Can still be movement forward

Making the best of it
Blooming where I’m planted

Winter’s broken branch
Caught safely in lower limbs
Pendulum ticking


O’ Nimrod, revered throughout time
The great grandson of Noah
Acclaimed in the Bible
“The Mighty Hunter of the Lord”

You were the leader
Erecting the Tower of Babel
Building an incursion into Heaven
Even God feared your abilities

God’s answer was
Creating multiple languages from one
Turning clarity into babel

Yet your fame
Outlived God’s righteous wrath

Your descendants revered other hunters
Using your name

Battleships were named after you
My favorite the HMS Nimrod
Shelled Cape Cod
During the War of 1812

Publishing Houses, Presses, and Poetry Journals
Revered you
By adopting your name

God’s memory is long
And She is not known
To forgive easily

For millennia, not able to sully
Your memory with cannons, battles, or ink
She finally devised a plan
Creating a rabbit and an inept hunter
To bring you down

Bugs Bunny, the wascawwy wabeit
Would be hunted by inept Elmer Fudd

Bugs Bunny threw all the might of his fame
In saddling Elmer with the moniker
“Poor little nimrod”

For generations of children
Nimrod, the renown hunter
Was now perceived to be a klutz

O’ Nimrod, I still praise your name


Look at reality and the dreams behind it
Dreams are what carry us on
[Movie quote from Harvey]

Marinade life with dreams
Simmer nows with anticipation
Smell the cooking and increase the pleasure the feast
Remember a caress and heighten desire
Look at reality and the dreams behind it

Choose happiness
Sorrow needs no assistance
Don’t send time fretting
Now is all we have
Hug close – anticipation, caresses and happiness
Dreams are what carry us on


I don’t know much about artichokes
Really, what’s with those spiky leaves?

I don’t know why some people
Are like artichokes
They have spikes on shoulders
And are always ready for a fight
It’s exhausting me

Forget about talking politics
It’s a mind field
Everyone believes they’re right
And that others are just plain stupid

How about climate change
Yup, another taboo
I’m amazed that everyone is so sure about the weather
Since this is one thing I know is always changing

Don’t worry, I know that climate and weather are different
But I still wonder why so many people
Are so sure of a future Armageddon
And attack folks who question the science

Here’s another taboo
What’s all the strife about religion
If each religion is in a valley
And God is the air
Don’t we all have to breathe?

I don’t know why
We just don’t take a pause
Figure out what works well for us
All of us – were in it together
Then go ahead and do it

Maybe we should take a lesson from eating artichokes
Avoid the spikes
And just sit down talk and enjoy
The meal of life together

First Hour       

Waking to echoes of the other world
Becoming aware of the tumbling sounds of Crooked Creek
Comes the clatter of paws on the hardwood floors
I look thru the trees to a pale rose dawn
Only a faint pallet compared to my earlier arena

Barefoot into the bathroom
Pleased with the toasty heated floor
Leaving with the lingering taste of mint

Continuing the warmth by pulling on
Minnetonka sheepskin slippers
I’ve had the same style for years

I quietly leave my sleeping bride
Letting the dogs out
Through the open door
I get my first taste of the outside world

I channel my inner coffee alchemist
First, filtered water into the kettle,
Pausing only to drink a glass
Then opening an airtight canister
To pour out freshly roasted beans
Into a hand grinder from Scotland
The aroma, spicy and sharp, wafts stronger as I grind
Into my AeroPress, the fine grounds, then the boiling water
After using a spatula to mix
I express the dark brew into my Ember mug
Knowing if angels had a bistro,
They’d be blessed to serve this coffee

With fuel at the ready
I fold down our Murphy desk
Think about which fountain pen to use
A vintage Mont Blanc with medium nib
Or an extra fine point from my Namiki collection

These are keys to other realms
Where I become unfettered to this waking world

empty bird feeder
songbirds still come hopefully
calling for springtime

Third Watch      

The dream always begins the same way
My back is to the campfire
Preserving my night vision
Guarding the camp

I barely hear the crackling fire
I’m leaning on my grandfather’s spear
It’s solid, a comfort
I gather courage from it

I’m a soldier in ancient Greece
I know we’re going into battle the next day

But now, it’s just me, the night and my duty
I’m calm because I hear the drone of the crickets
The occasional hoot of the owl
If there were intruders I would only hear silence

Artemis is not hunting tonight
In the light of the stars
I see the outline of hills
And beyond, our beached ships and the distance sea

Everything is enlivened by gods and spirits
A kaleidoscope of colors
The willowy trees are dryads calling to me
The swirling breeze the caress of Zephyrus

I cannot help but to look for omens
Is victory ordained?
Is death near?

I pull my cloak more closely around me
I love my comrades sleeping by the fire
I grew up with them

Tomorrow, I know
I will joyfully march with them

Passing Trains

At 41
Love came to stay
And I married

Not blessed with children
We cherish our dogs
Good years passed

Trains enchant me
They’re roomy, restful, and gracious

Returning home to New Jersey from Boston
My train stopped in New Haven
To change locomotives

For a closer look
I made my way onto the platform
As the north bound Acela pulled-in

An animated fashionable dressed woman
With a young boy got off the train
They skipped up to view their engine

Enchanted seeing the boy
Imitating my train fascination
I suddenly recognized woman
She was girl friend from my past
Who only had eyes for her boy

I was gifted with a glimpse
Into a way not taken

My conductor called, all aboard
Back in my seat I continued to watch
What might have been
Turning my head until they disappeared


I kicked a jerk in his shin
While wearing wingtips
It felt pretty good

I gave a jerk understanding and empathy
He turned into a friend
It felt pretty good

I’ve had dogs and cats
They purr when having
Their tummies rubbed
Then again, so do I

When wondering about
Which rules, free will or destiny?
I go with free will
But respect destiny

Red Socks versus Yankees
I could give a rat’s ass

I’m not wild about
Listening to jazz
But playing jazz
Is a whole other thing

Am I down with the struggle?
Or do I want to live
A contemplative life?
Why not do both?

I’ve lived rich and lived poor
I learned what’s best
Is savoring each moment

Vacation at the
Beach or in the mountains
Doesn’t matter
Just go

Is there an absolute morality
Or is everything relative?
All I know is
Karma’s a bitch

Does picking one thing
Mean I cannot choose another?
The answer is YES
When it comes to
– Wives
– Following through on commitments
– And wholeheartedly reveling in each moment


Take a moment
Enjoy a weekend
Have a relaxing vacation
Dig into your sabbatical

All pauses from the
Cacophony of life

These windows are everywhere
Gusts of wind
A beating heart

Sink into the silence
Become unstuck in time

Empty your cup
Expand your very soul


In my youth, I was a caddy
Carrying two golf bags toughen my body
For 18 holes, I’d make $5 per bag
Sometimes I did 36

At the end of the day
I would spill my money out
On the kitchen table
Then collapse in any vacant chair  

My mother would swoop up the cash
Never a share for me
Putting it in the bank for my college education
Her praise was enough for me

At each long hole,
I would run ahead, fore-caddying
Waiting for the drives
Standing next to the fairway
In patches of purple periwinkles

In this slight pause
I’d regain my breath
Looking away from the sun’s glare
Seeing clouds shaped like
Clipper ships, elephants and the occasional rabbit

Celebrating recent birdies
The men would share scotch
Take out cigars
And flame them with lighters

I’ve never developed a taste for golf
But left college with no debt
And a fondness for
Good cigars, smoky scotch
And taking time to find the shapes in clouds

We All Have Reasons      

I wonder

How emotions drive  actions
I have fear of the big three

Plus, let’s not forget
Missing out

After 63 years
Now, I know that
I have a choice
Fear can drive
Terror and stagnation
Bravery and courage

It’s my choice in how I drive

What’s yours?

Concept2 Rower

10 months now
An every other day ritual
I row in my basement
A good habit

I started sluggishly
With one-minute
Then three
Now, a robust 40-minute row

A seat, sliding on a steel beam
This machine
Has been with me
For 26 years

It was folded and stored
For years at a time
Not used, neglected

The electronics are shot
But the chain and gears
Are lovingly oiled
The machine sparkles

I have a smooth stroke
Learned on
The Charles River
Honed by high school and college racing

I listen to audio books
Only when rowing
I need to sweat
To hear what happens next

Every other day
I row
To different worlds
Getting stronger, fitter.


In landscape bleak
You dare caress my face

You stir a dormant longing

You gently pull back the white blanket
Instigating a riot of clumps from the dirt

And celebrate blotches of color
In the air that sing