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.


The sweetest goodbyes are
When 3-day house guests leave
Unwanted pounds are not replaced
And hangovers go walk-about

I still miss college life
No one had as much fun as me
Wondered if there was life after college
Decided there wasn’t
Been making the best of it ever since

Give me starry nights
Story telling around campfires
I relish when Odysseus and Beowulf join us
Sadness comes only when the fire dims
And we continue the telling in our dreams

On Sundays, I miss Mom’s dinners
Family friends, maiden aunts and sisters
Entering into epic debates
Ruthlessly taking sides for the joy of it
Everything ended peaceably with
Warm homemade brownies and
Brigham’s chocolate chip ice-cream

My sister Mary Noël could talk
On long car trips or when stranded in airports
A call to her would make time disappear
I long to have another call with her

I’ve learned to live each day
It could be my last, or yours
Live like the soldier, shipping out to war the next day
Leave nothing unsaid
Leave nothing undone
Life is too fragile for coy
Too fleeting for hedging.

2018: What’s going to happen to me in the future?

2038: It keeps on changing. Sometimes you’re here and other times you’re not.

2018: What can you tell me for sure?

2038: Here’s one definite thing, you slept in this morning. Once you’ve done something it’s
over, immutable. Now, tomorrow morning has many possibilities, each one creates its own

2018: Can you give me something I can act on? Please?

2038: Looking at all your futures, you have more joy when you cherish hope. The timelines
when you let grief overtake you, you get consumed by fear.

2018: Check, yes to joy and optimism! But, I’ve made mistakes and done some stupid stuff.
How should I feel about that?

2038: It’s in the past. Like I said, immutable. What you need to focus on is not churning grief
but learning from your mistakes. This way, you grow in wisdom and do less stupid stuff. By the
way, dwelling on grief is one of those “stupid things”.

2018: How about this, do I become more adept at the playing the ukulele?

2038: In the futures, when you practice every day and take weekly lessons, you become really good. It’s a fountain of joy that you partake of your whole life. You never regret a minute that you spent playing your uke!

2018: Please, anything else you can share that brings me joy in the future?

2038: Since you asked so nicely… If you agree to do a favor for someone, put it at the top of
your ‘Get To’ List. Plus, handwrite and send more letters, it matters. Keep dogs in your life. At the tippy top of your list put Joanne. True love is Heaven on earth.

2018: Whoa, is there a Heaven?

2038: Don’t know. Do your best to make others happy is a good first step.

2018: Any last pieces of advice?

2038: Don’t buy that motorcycle and floss more.


T.S. Eliot
He said
We were
Hollow men
This young Tom
Before fame called him
From his Missouri hedges
He was revered in college
Not for his poetry or pool play
But for his raucous drinking songs
Long covertly cherished by his Digamma brothers
After travel from Cambridge to Oxford
He became desolate
When the primrose
Torch of fame
Baked his

Curtesy is always a good choice
Elegance a close second
It’s my code
The way I thrive
Curtesy the beacon
Helps me deviate from disaster
Veers me into safe harbors
My mother, a dockworker’s daughter
Only drank her tea out of china
She taught me elegance
That’s the name on my yacht
Where living well is the best revenge
In the gales of life
I trim my sails
By the grace of my code
I know when to
With aged sore body
Motion is lotion
More movement is mandatory
So why not,
Say hello to the hula during housework
Make coffee with the cha-cha
Waltz while the wash is whirling
Dig the dervish and dry dishes
Tease out the tango instead of TV
How about, go to the gym
Enjoy an endorphin elixir
Forego the flex in the reflection
Perform a pirouette instead
No music
Tap your foot, hummm
Heck, belt out a showtune
Channel your inner Elvis
Gyrate your hips
And dance.
Godmother’s Blessing
When did it start?
Maybe as a whim or a way to heal a rift
I don’t remember
Saying goodbye
During sporadic visits
I’d asked Gertrude for her blessing
She never refused
She gave her blessing with serious intent
I would bow my head, close my eyes
My godmother would reach up and with her thumb
Make the sign of the cross on my forehead
She was a maiden aunt
Loved her family, books and garden
Taught high school for 50 years
Went to church daily
Enjoyed the occasional novena
She lived a full life, 101 years
Even at the end
When dementia came to stay
She remembered the motions
This sharing of grace
I miss her
I wonder why I don’t ask as many questions anymore?
Where did my curiosity go?
When did I become blasé to mysteries?
Why did I stop having fun asking questions like these questions?
What happed to the dinosaurs?
Did Atlantis really exist?
What about the Anasazi, where did they go?
Did the early Celts have copper mines in Vermont?
Did the Vikings make wine from Martha Vineyard grapes?
Have extra-terrestrials visited Earth and influenced our development?
Is déjà vu, a glimpse into our past lives?
Do I think, I’m so smart that I know all the answers?
Or even worse, do I think that science answers everything and there is no magic left in my world?
I wonder?
Earth or Sky
Which window is better?  How can I decide?  Sitting in my 40-year-old Harvard chair or laying on our new king size Tempur-Pedic bed?
From my crimson cushioned chair, I hear the chorus of Crooked Creek’s churning water, a steady avalanche of murmuring.   I’ve seen furtive foxes, hurtling horned stags, and a skimming great blue heron, whose wings leave dimples in eddies and vortexes in bare branches.
Above our brand-new bed, we’ve removed the ceiling and opened the roof to a twosome of skylights.  At night, I’ve been nudged by columns of moonlight.  With the waning moon, been rewarded with a visit from Arcturus   I’ve surveyed soft snow building up above my head and the drumbeat of hail.  I’ve even seen Aurora’s wakening accented by far-flung flying eagles.
Earth or sky.  Day or night.  One embellishes and makes rare the other.
Douglas A3D
I only have two-real memories of my father
This Missouri man, before the Navy,
the closest he ever came to seagulls
was sexin’ chicken eggs
With pure chutzpah he became a pilot
One of the first to land heavy jet bombers
on aircraft carriers
While he was asleep on the couch
I jumped on him
Then whirled into laughter filled air
A dimmer memory, he’s in his car
On his way back to sea
People tell be that after the news
I did not speak coherently for years
Sister Carmella, one Christmas Eve
Gave me a wonderful present
Her memory of my Dad
At the convent,
At a scheduled time
My father’s jet formation
Would be over head
All the nuns ran out
Into the cloistered garden
They waved their white work aprons
Against their black habits
My Dad waved back with jet wings wagging
At sunset, contrails shimmer then disperse
Two memories are all I have.
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