T for Tom

Sea of Dreams

Posted in poem by johnsontoms on October 6, 2017

The valedictorian was the son of a truck driver

Had two brothers

Both older

Valedictorians the same.

I was eight seats behind the youngest when my name was called at graduation,

In order by our grade point average.

Some two hundred were behind us

Ordered by name to save them the shame.

But the kids at the top were spotlighted

And for us it felt like the inauguration to life.

It was affirmation that the kids would be all right.

 

With the applause came the dreams made for us

As much as by us

And the weight of expectations.

Those in the back came off easy

Because the valedictorian, well,

He was supposed to be a doctor.

The second fellow a lawyer

And the girl in third a politician.

Didn’t matter that we were sons of truck drivers

And so the dreams of our fathers weren’t out of sight.

The kids in the back could just smoke grass

And they’d be all right.

 

Those stuck with dreams weren’t the only ones to go on learning

And we weren’t the only ones to drop out either

We weren’t the only ones drinking underage

Smoking all day

And changing our minds

And for everyone it’s safe to say

We all missed the mark by a little.

None of us are astronauts, were never meant to be,

But a few of the kids are still all right.

 

A few of them made a few more moves and played it safe

Went out and became teachers before taking wives.

Not too far out, really,

When you’re still that close to shore.

 

A few others waded too deep and took the first thing

Married, then kids,

Then the fucking mortgages

While the lucky ones died just before.

 

We’re not really dreaming when we’re all doing the same thing.

 

Best to burn out bright

Or not go gently into night

Or whatever it is that keeps you from floating

Shifting around with human ghosts

Nothing to see

All of us lost on the sea of dreams.

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One Minute for a Million Opportunities

Posted in america, poem, Remember to Remember by johnsontoms on August 24, 2017

Staring out the window of our second-floor barracks room, facing southeast outward to the parking lot in front of our Alpha Company building, there were a few tall, green oaks that stood in the hundred-foot space that separated our building from Bravo Company barracks next to ours. Our room was near the corner, and the two windows that on either side of my locker were always open because the air conditioner was in disrepair at all times. First thing in the morning and last thing at night, the scene out the window would be dark except for the orange glowing halogen in the street lamp between buildings. But every morning just after physical training and each afternoon at the end of class, the few minutes when I could slow down to think for myself for just one minute, I’d approach my locker and then swiftly move aside for the other five soldiers I shared the room with who were eager to shower or eat or busy themselves in some or other. Early on during that training phase in Virginia, the second and longest I’d endure after entering the Army, we had limited personal time and were under constant supervision. When other soldiers across the Army were training to be infantrymen and supply men and gunners and were scrutinized during a short, two-month period that saw constant activity and rare personal time, my classmates and I were the fortunate ones. As aircraft repairmen, we set about a long, six-month, class-based training phase that freed us up for almost every afternoon.

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The hangar.

And every day that I’d get off that converted school bus that carted us from the hangar back to the barracks, after standing in formation to hear our orders, if we weren’t scheduled to conduct barracks maintenance or trash pickup or supply loading or weapons maintenance or general training, and if we weren’t forced to get in the chow formation and march to the dining facility, if all those things lined up, we could have the evening to ourselves, only so long as we didn’t leave the barracks footprint. It was limited to the basketball court and bleachers immediately in the front or the PT field adjacent, but we could go there. If we wanted. And during those days, when I had the freedom to make a personal decision, I’d stand at that window and look out at the green, take in the sun through the window, and ask myself what I wanted to do that evening.

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The locker, the windows on both sides.

I’d listen for the clang of a chain net that meant some were playing basketball, or I’d see Ryan and Jason taking off to the smoke shack for cigarettes. Later on in training, as we were given more privileges, we would walk to the library a half-mile away and sit in the smoke shack there alone, away from the hundred other soldiers that were constantly around. During the first early weeks when we’d walk to the library or the post exchange, I’d picked up a couple CDs. It was the only way I had to get music, culture of any kind, and was the first time I’d been able to do either in six months time. One of them was the latest Fleet Foxes album, Helplessness Blues. A while later in the summer, it was Bon Iver’s Bon Iver, Bon Iver, but in the early weeks and with no other way to get new music, Fleet Foxes was played over and over and over. I put the album on my computer and on my phone which I had access to only in the evenings. The sergeants would occasionally do uniform checks in formation to see if any soldier had snuck their phone to class, and so going without, I made the habit of throwing that locker open when I came back from class, turning on a song and staring out the window. It was only 5pm, but after 12 hours of commands, that peaceful, gentle minute to myself, to make any damn decision, was the minute I lived for. What would I do today? really can be the truth of freedom.

We had a day once, just a couple hours. John and I set out to find the body of water on post, because godammit there was a body of water. If you’re not familiar with how wonderful the sight of a lake can be after six months of walls and trees, then you won’t understand why I nearly broke down crying just listening to the soft wave from a fresh lake lap up on the hard dirt beach. I mean, we just took a walk to the water, and it was magnificent.

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The lake on that day.

“After all is said and after all is done I feel the same / All that I hoped would change within me stayed.”

Through these little moments of repurposing our perspectives on freedom, the spirit was rich and growing, but I was still that lost, confused young man looking for answers, questions that led me to the Army. I guess I remember this song most during those early afternoons because I’ve always been afraid that I wouldn’t become something, even in the abstract. Because it was enough then just to have a cigarette after class, and it was enough then just to order a pizza a couple times a week if only to eat outside the DFAC, and it was enough then just to be with the friends I’d made in a forced environment. Inside me, some things stayed: the desire to be great, the unending feelings of failure and loss and hopelessness, that my dreams were always tethered to the fortunes of circumstance, circumstances that led me to the army. And I knew it would take much more time to get anywhere nearer I wanted to be, because in those times, in those vacuum environments, it was enough to just be with people who understood.

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That’s Ryan Landes in the smoke shack where we hid.

“After all is said and all is done / God only knows which one of them I’ll become.”

More days than not I chose to live. Thankfully. I could’ve never seen the rest coming.

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John, Jason, Ryan, myself; Hampton, VA, 2011

It’s 2017

Posted in poem, Prose, Uncategorized by johnsontoms on July 26, 2017

I was raised in a world that believed in better.

Fresh out of war,

hope and virtues lapping up like waves on the shore,

Bright-eyed, starry youthful dreams because we landed on the moon

Before I was even born.

But

Right back to war and now

It’s 2017 and people are starving.

It’s 2017 and men carry guns in the street.

It’s 2017 and black people die everyday.

It’s 2017 and seeing a doctor, wanting to live, costs money, at all.

It’s 2017 and people walk through the streets,

Into shopping malls,

Into church,

Listening to Hells Bells,

Talking of Reagan,

Afraid of changing,

But changing can’t come soon enough.

Get with it.

It’s fucking 2017 and y’all out there shooting, hating, killing,

Watching people die.

How far we’ve come to have gotten nowhere at all.

It’s 2017 and the shores are rising from the ice that’s melting

And

One day if we’re lucky

The waves will wash over the shore and cleanse the earth of all and sundry.

There Is So Much Static

Posted in poem by johnsontoms on June 6, 2016

There is so much static that can fill you in

If you let it.

 

Let it flow and flow and

Screeeeeeeeeeeeeeeech

Quietly as a ringing in your ear.

‘Fore you know it, ten years by,

and still with the static.

 

Like waking up to a floor

Of beer bottles and empty beds

In half-lit motels

On nowhere highways.

 

But if the sky gets wide enough

On drives long enough

To the hills where no one lives

There the static lowers to a dull

Replaced by fresh air.

 

Breathe deep the pines

Sit high on vistas

Stare at the valley below

And swat away the noise like flies

 

The flies they are

 

Brought in with the rain

But this season too will pass

And give way to summer.

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The Dust In A Line

Posted in poem by johnsontoms on May 4, 2015

There, to the east from the mountain

The dust in a line rises

From ants marching

Rolling in all terrain vehicles

Rolling in armored tanks

Rolling out to the field

Marching to victory.

All in a row

And without question

The call is “follow me!”

Where the desert winds pick the sand

Off the floor and through the air

It soars, clouding vision.

A fitting description.

But there also to the east is earth untouched,

Holes in the ground dug once but abandoned,

No more money, you see?

Now just empty mines

Though empty depends on your frame of mind.

To the ants

The money is the making

The money is in the march

The money is in the order

To follow someone to victory.

But in such desert, lonely places

Where high noon is all day

No shade from no tree

There in the mines away from the ants

I hide.

A cool wind drifts off the rocks.

That is not my army any longer.

That is not my war anymore.

Lines of dust blowing up from the convoys.

Lines of dust blowing up from the convoys.

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Evolving

Posted in poem by johnsontoms on May 21, 2014

Evolving

Cleaning out is fine

Gone are the smokes

Gone with meat,

Drinks

Free sex.

It is cleaning, I am clean

But what next?

It feels, feels like a step out and on and upward

But who am I to leave humanity behind?

 

I am the dirty streets

I am the filthy sheets

I am the wild, naked and raging

am the towers overhead

am the dying and the dead

I am the whores

the corrupt

the smoke filling up

I am oh I am the graves

the trash blowing away

the sirens

Food stamps

Empty news stands

Yes I am.

 

Tell me I am, I don’t

Want to get so far away that I lose touch and become some saint,

Discarded for grace

Better to make change

By sleeping with the (blank).

 

Even 2000-years ago Jesus hung from the plank.

Coffee

Posted in poem by johnsontoms on May 21, 2014

Coffee

All I can think of is coffee

Kaffee, café, kohv, кофе

With milk, sometimes sugar

Sometimes cold (rarely),

Like mine black,

Nothing added.

 

Maybe a cigarette.

Always a cigarette.

And away goes the static.

 

/Crackling plastic, sifting grain, running water,

*click* and then sizzling, drop drop drop/

 

In the cup, steam rising

So damn warm,

Smooth roasted, no filter

And then!

 

Espresso, cappuccino, latte

Yes please

Just give me the caffeine

And a little time to think.

Where Do The Words Go?

Posted in poem by johnsontoms on May 21, 2014

Where do the words go?

Softly

Softly to the wind

Blown through the trees

And never heard again.

But such a sweet end-

Alone, quiet,

Surrounded by friends.

Other souls long too unused

There also by way

Of neglect:

Laughter, poetry, strong cups of coffee

Between conversations about

Where does it all go?

And when you run your hands softly

Over the tops of the grass,

Cool, light, inviting, a shade of pleasant

But something true and cordial with Father Time,

Looking down then you will see where it all goes

And I wonder, oh, I wonder

When we will pick it back up.

There It Is

Posted in Europe, poem by johnsontoms on May 30, 2013

There it is

There

It

Is

Crashing with the sound of thunderclaps to say

Here I am

Here

I

Am

Some small, some large

But all grand.

The waves topped with white on the brown, sanded cliffs

Worn down from years of clapping

It’s like shaking hands to announce to each other they’ve arrived.

The cliffs to be introduced

To the water not new

To the world

That should consider itself lucky.

Here we are, here we are.

Winding stairs for the man who sees

Not what goes on below

But what goes on in front when so much is

Underneath.

There it goes, there it goes

Back into the sea, back into the blue tides

The rising highs of water miles that keep us

Like a divider apart from our Mother Earth.

We should see her.

There she is, there she is.

She speaks most when no one is listening.

There I was.

It Takes The Sun Twelve Hours

Posted in poem, Prose by johnsontoms on March 14, 2013

It takes the sun twelve hours to traverse the sky and somehow when there’s no more light our bodies grow tired enough to sleep until it rises the next day.  This miracle is not by design – it is by chance.  We did not get here on purpose. But we have a choice to do something about it.  Everything has been a series of accidents up until humans started walking, talking, and killing things, and even then history is full of mistakes.  Thousands of years of humanity and we largely keep making the same wrong choices.  Pretty amazing, really, that after all this time, all these sunrises and sunsets, the majority of man believes in God, the almighty in the sky.  These things are too perfect for that – the cycles, the union of the sun and our souls, all things too genuine to be anything but a one-in-a-trillion chance gone right.  So if God does exist, he’s seen to it that everything since has gone wrong.