Browsed by
Tag: Poetry

Fish Paintings

Fish Paintings


The first thing that struck me about Landmark when I interviewed last November was the overwhelming presence of fish artwork. Every room and hallway in the office, even the areas that no client or manager would ever step foot, featured images of fish or fishing-related scenes on the walls. There was little restraint on the part of the interior designers (or whoever elected to hang all of the paintings); instead of tastefully chosen images spaced sparingly throughout the office’s six floors, the goal seemed to be displaying as many paintings as the walls would allow.

Even stranger is the fact that no one in the office is particularly devoted to fishing. As the story goes, when the company acquired the townhouse-style building, one of the clients asked if the office needed artwork to decorate the walls. He then proceeded to dump his entire collection of fish paintings – all originals, mind you – to be displayed. To give a sense of the volume of paintings, there are twenty-three on the staircase from the first floor to the fifth, seven in the room where I sit (eight if you count the large one stashed behind the printer), and six in the small conference room where the investment team meets.

The funny thing is that I love to fish. I grew up with weekend outings at the Field Farm pond in Williamstown where we caught largemouth bass and then graduated to evenings rowing around the coves of Lake Champlain with my dad during the summers we spent in Westport. I picked up fly-fishing as a leader at Dudley, and Maddie taught me how to gut and clean trout that we have pulled out of Quaker Lake. If I have to be Landmark’s de facto fish guru, that is fine by me.

I have not yet devised a comparison between the office’s single most defining feature and the nature of the work. I need some more time to mull over all of the possible fish metaphors I could use to describe my office, and I will certainly have that, since I am less than a month into my two years here. I did, however, use this peculiar “museum” as the topic for my most poem. This one is fairly autobiographical, and I have attempted to strike a balance among ridiculous, inquisitive, and reverential sentiments.

Dinner last weekend, caught in Quaker Lake


The walls of my office are covered in fish paintings.
Exclusively fish paintings.
And not just any old fish paintings
(although I’m sure some date back a century or more)
but original fish paintings.
Five floors of these things —
six if you could the attic,
where many more are stored,
or so I’ve heard —
and so many on each wall as to be claustrophobic.
There are too many to hang them all,
and it’s rumored that the founder once mulled the idea
of buying the building next door
and expanding the business
so as to have more bare walls at his disposal.
They choke and confuse the rooms,
not a regal marlin cresting an ocean wave
but a jumble of netted smelt gasping for air.

When I summon the courage to inquire
about the fish paintings —
“so, who’s the fisherman around here?” —
I am met only by mumbles and shrugs,
so I continue to ponder the fish paintings,
stopping often on my trek up to my fourth-floor desk
to inspect the details of a particular species
or speculate the geography of a scene.
There are watercolors where milky underbellies
of a salmon run flash across the falls and rivulets;
oil-drenched canvases with rippled streams
and textured bark framed in hardwoods;
graphite sketches forlorn and wistful,
the soul-searching eye of the fish
an even deeper shade of black.

Above my desk shaded dark amidst a muddled,
impressionistic slew of browns and greens —
perhaps an Adirondack scene after summer rain —
a lone fisherman wields a hickory swatch,
the line slack but illuminated by dappled sun.
He is steady, unencumbered by the current
or the swaying limbs overhead,
and yet his face is featureless,
a blank and empty space.
And as I project my thoughts across the spectrum
of distance and the years,
composing my own mental sketches
upon his stoic frame,
I wonder what this man did
to be immortalized in such a way,
how his grand deeds or expertise or stature
stacked up against the thousand other fishermen
the artist could have chosen,
and concurrently consider
what he did to deserve his final resting place
among the hundred other fish paintings
in a slow and lonely office
on the east side of Manhattan,
so far from the river he loves.

New Lenses and Language

New Lenses and Language

The first half of August is always slow. I remember a quote from the beginning of Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.

Granted, these sentiments do not perfectly correlate to my experience in New York over the past two weeks – today does mark two weeks on the job – but when a paragraph like this one sticks with you from the moment you read it, you know it is evoking something deeper, something powerful.

For me, early August always meant that the sun would begin to set noticeably earlier and a chill would overtake the early mornings on Lake Champlain. I would begin to realize the impending changes and do my best to savor every day. For late August would always take on an entirely different feel: a return to Williamstown, or later Middlebury, and the commencement of another season of soccer.

I reflect on these periods of my life because my seasonal rhythms have been thrown out the window this summer. I entered my new life in New York at a time where everyone else is leaving the city to take those last weeks of summer vacation. Things move slowly, and the expected bustle of the city is subdued by the summer humidity.

Still, as I move around, I am confronted on a second-to-second basis with new things to observe: views, aromas, unique atmospheres of each block, and, of course, people. One of my goals post-Middlebury has been to continue with my writing. This blog is a great reason for me to write, but with so many opportunities for inspiration around me, I have launched back into writing poems.

One of the best pieces of feedback that I received from my poetry thesis adviser and second reader was that I do a good job creating characters in my poems and speaking from disparate points-of-view. I appreciate the process of turning an observation into a story. Sometimes the result strays from where I intended or represents something so far removed from who I am that I have no idea how it came to be. But I always find that in creating a voice, one that is different than mine, I learn about myself. What follows is one of those poems.


We’ve seen each other more than once
across the empty space —
a drifting shadow on sunlit mornings,
a candlelit blur through evening’s blinds;
we hear the same cacophony
rising from the street below,
though whether you and I discern
the same melody from the madness
I cannot be sure.
To call it a street,
that strangled stretch of cobbled walk
and calloused hedges dividing our buildings
is to give more credit than it deserves —
and I say “our” buildings
because there is no better way to put it,
but we both know there’s no ownership
on this block —
nothing possessive,
no personal touch, no sense of pride
in the square footage that we are leasing
on annual contracts —
just an endless array
of 4’ x 4’ windows radiating outwards,
refracting around corners
and below the pavement,
but never really stopping.

I’m speaking for you, I realize,
but what choice do I have?
These aren’t the types of walls
that would talk, if they could.
I catch glimpses into your world,
one that could so easily be mine,
but at the closing down of each day
I find only my reflection
in your dark, despondent window.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who’s the loneliest of them all?

 I dream of crossing paths
somewhere far away from this place —
Greenpoint or Poughkeepsie or even Malibu —
a silent nod of recognition,
a smile —
a back and forth
that begins somewhere out there
and returns with us to our separate
but coalescing spaces —
blurry moments growing clearer
in the sunrise gleaming off your window
and into mine —
false pretenses stripped down,
no need for these questions
of proximity and perception.
I’ll throw a rope across the chasm
and be your modern-day Philippe Petit,
waltzing high above Manhattan
and over to you.

But today is choked and dense
and ungrateful, so inward I turn.
It is early and many hours lie waiting
before I dream again,
and imprisoned I’ll remain
by your shuttered window,
my fragmented illusion —
no portal into your life
but a mirror turned on mine.

The Big Questions

The Big Questions

It is still early June, but the weather in the Adirondacks is reminiscent of the deep summer heat of late July or early August. I am doing my best to embrace the warm temperatures, but as always, the crazy weather swings in this part of the world leave a constant feeling of unpredictability. That is how I am feeling, too, about my recent adventures, and those upcoming.

The biggest leap, my move to New York in early August and the start of my “real world job,” is both far off and menacingly near. I have seven weeks, but one of those will be out West road tripping, four will be in Germany through the exchange trip that I am leading, and six out of seven will be without Maddie by my side.

So I am trying to be proactive with my preparations and planning, but I am also considering the big questions. I will not find answers until I settle into New York, and perhaps not even then, but I still find the thought process appealing. It reminds me of a character I created in my poetry, a girl who is asking these questions herself – trying to “peel back the surface of the world. So, on this humid, windy, ninety degree summer day, I share “The Weathervane,” which I conceived of last summer and completed for my poetry thesis this spring.


We begin with a single
angular shaft of light.

It filters through the hole
in the roof and traces outlines
through the movement of days
and seasons — patterns graphed
with geometric equations
and etched into memory.

In the dusty glow of its wake
the rats and moths circle —
edging close to feel its warmth
but always leaving space,
as if the light will scald
their eyes and wings.

The spirit hatch,
it was called,
or so the girl had heard
before she toured the old
family land for the first time.

In that moment she walks on tiptoes —
sidestepping erect rock outcroppings
topped with moss and tufted grass,
careful not to disturb the abandoned ruins
as she gazes at time past —
and through the spirit hatch
she spies the weathervane.

It spins for her,
dull screeches catching
a trailing wind, until
it settles on west momentarily,
though because of wind or rust
the girl cannot be sure,
and she finds herself stuck, too —
fixated with the colossal,
the simultaneous bliss and angst
of the nameless,
of brushing the overgrown
fescue with each step,
no matter how calculated,
and setting another course in motion.

Each spin the weathervane
bores infinitesimally deeper
into its mooring —
its purpose predicating its
demise in self-perpetuation —
a virtuous circle, like the light
from the spirit hatch that tracks
in predictable irregularity
over the broken home,
its arc waxing and waning
with the seasons —
but always returning.

The ancient timbers hang in balance,
held fast by the delicate hand of time
and weighed amidst the movements
of celestial bodies —
the stars are but a tapestry
weaving itself over
again and again.

These are the trajectories of the world:
the turning of the seasons,
the precession from young to old,
the ebbs and flows of knowing
and unknowing and understanding,
the dissipation of heat.

They will be so,
like the lone pine
or the steadfast mountain,
until the weathervane
rusts to a standstill,
in spirit or reality.

And she wonders:
how do we peel back
the surface of the world?

Morel, Morale, Moral

Morel, Morale, Moral

I knew nothing of foraging until I read Michael Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a book in which an entire section told the story of Pollen’s quest to learn to forage and prepare a meal from his findings. A particular chapter stuck with me, that being a springtime expedition he made into an area recently burned by forest fires to find morel mushrooms poking through the sooty soil. While I was sure that the mushrooms were tasty delicacies, I dismissed the idea of ever foraging on my own due to the painstaking attention to detail required to collect morels. Plus, Vermont does not experience forrest fires.

So, when I discovered a single morel enjoying the shade and mulch outside my bedroom window (pictured above), I was surprised for two reasons. First, I never thought I could “forage” for anything, let alone something so close to home. Second, I had written a poem about morels for my creative thesis, an uplifting piece that weaves threads of science and love through the images of hard-to-see mushrooms and burned forests. The fact that a morel appeared outside my window the day after I finished college seemed more than a stroke of random luck. No, it felt like I was receiving a message.

As I look forward to the future, I am ecstatic about the adventures I have planned for the next two months, and I am eager to move into my NYC apartment with Maddie and make the space our own. I do, however, fear some of the changes that will occur with moving to a city and beginning a job that will have me working “regular” hours. It will be a far cry from the freedom I felt this semester, in time, space, and creative expression.

Perhaps, the presence of the morel outside my window was telling me to listen to the message of my poem – to find love and beauty in unexpected places, to keep up my morale even when facing the unknown.

If this is the moral of my transition from Middlebury to New York, I think it is a good one.

And lastly, where there is one morel, there are often many more. The next morning, I found six more in close proximity, including the large one pictured below that is nearly the size of my hand. I am sure that once I settle into New York and begin to find the sparks that keep up my morale, there will be no stopping me.

A collection of morels


mô’rel : an edible fungus that has a brown oval or pointed fruiting body
with an irregular honeycombed surface bearing the spores;
demonstrates an unusual propensity to grow abundantly in forests
which have been recently burned by wildfire

The air was so thick
that it tasted of char
when the wind sifted through the burn forest,
and as I remember,
it did so often.

She’d spoken of nitrates and microorganisms,
and the hollow tones of her voice
nestled between remnants
of organic matter.

Below the burn spring had arrived,
and above on the mountainside
the pine shrubs had not yet released
their winter brace —

and in the space between
she followed her own bearings,
knelt and felt the blackened earth
in the cool shadows of dead half-trunks,
saw color in the landscape
that wasn’t there —

and plucked up a morel.

Though I had followed blindly
I now felt the whimsical spontaneity of it all,
and the darkness of the burn lifted
as spring rose up the mountain.

And she placed the morel
in my palm
and traced my wrist,
a promise answered,
a prayer renewed,
a sooty touch now rooted
in the infinite hyphae
beneath our feet.

The Weathervane (A Poetry Creative Thesis)

The Weathervane (A Poetry Creative Thesis)

This week, I finalized the first of my two theses. I am proud to say that “The Weathervane: Poems by Tom Dils” is now a complete collection. Not only is it a fulfilling feeling to finish a large project such as this and move one step closer to graduation, but it also rewarding to hold in my hands a year’s worth of ideas, trials and errors, and lasting themes and images that will stay with me well beyond Middlebury.

I am also excited to share my work. The entire collection can be found on my Portfolio page. It was fun to write, design, and perfect, and perhaps there will be life beyond this collection for some of poems that turned out best.

I am in the home stretch. The hard work is not over, but the to-do list gets shorter every day. Whether it is finishing a thesis, packing up items to make the final move-out easier, or enjoying a planned adventure or spontaneous moment with a friend, I am proud of what I am doing right now.



A poem I wrote this week, take it or leave it.


It is an evening in the middle of the week
and soon it will begin to snow, not a light
snow like the kind that sifted lazily onto my windowsill
last Sunday morning as I transferred coffee grounds
into the paper filter, water from cold to a slow boil,
my slippered self from groggy to awake—no,
this snow will come hard and fast and could deliver
upwards of twenty inches. I know this, of course,
not because I have watched the sky darken
or the barometer rise, but because the National Weather Service
has issued a blizzard warning for eight states
and my father has sent a series of pixelated maps
highlighting Windsor County as the predicted location
of the highest cumulative snowfall. I also know
that the cabin in which I currently check my phone,
the blue blob inching closer—first the Catskills,
then across the Taconic Range, then into the southern Greens—
has surprisingly good cell reception and an equally surprising
lack of beer in the refrigerator. I am here, in part,
because I have graduated and have not found
the motivation to face the future—because I have been
wrapped in veils of scholarly discourse and intellectual
thought exercises that have taught me little more than
the fact that I require a beer at the end of each day.
At least I have learned how to build a fire.
And now, as the driving flakes begin to appear
in heavy clumps that slide down the length of the glass door,
melting and accelerating as they are touched by the warmth
of the woodstove, I consider the possibility of driving
into town to get more beer, which of course presents
the inherent risk of finding the liquor store closed early
due to the storm; the potential of getting snowed in
so deep that I must spend another night here, alone;
the question of whether we all proceed in life
on insufficient knowledge or if I will ever find something
to hold me in an embrace of willfulness and clarity
and lay me down to sleep.

Winter Clearances

Winter Clearances

This past weekend had been marked on the calendar for a year – well, actually, for two years. I have been adamant about making my foray into the Nordic ski racing world at one venue and one venue only: the Stowe Derby. After the race was postponed and then called off last year, I geared up for an extra winter of training and improving my skate technique. As February dumped snow across the northeast, it seemed a sure thing that the Derby would take place.

Now, on a Monday morning with my weekend plans gone awry due, I prepare for a week of theses deadlines, variable weather conditions, and no Stowe Derby to get me excited. Sure, there are plenty more adventures in the near future, but I had built all of my skiing up as “training” for this race. Yesterday’s 6:30 AM email reporting ice, poor snow coverage, and downed trees on the race course prohibited me of pursuing my novice ski racing career. I must wait to check that one off of my “Before Moving to New York” bucket list. Perhaps the race will be rescheduled for a later weekend, but I know that chances are now low.

Yesterday instead became a day of reflection, of planning, of setting my sights on new goals. I am beginning to feel my relationship with my critical thesis material – the stories of Alistair MacLeod – growing stronger than ever. I’m loving my woodworking class, and it’s changed the way I explore. Now, when I’m out trail running or even driving, I key in on impressive trees and fallen logs, and I’ve noticed so much already. Lastly, I love that I can turn to my poetry whenever I need an escape. I am still formulating the way I want my collection to come together, but some of the individual poems that I have written are my favorites to date.

Drawing on the disappointment and optimism of this past weekend, on my recent interests, and on human issues I notice and engage with through thought, conversation, and action, I wrote this poem that I share today.


The brush pile was twisted
and resinous. Wet smoke
seeped upwards through
boughs that pricked
as they fell, and the heat
from meager embers
was too low to melt more
than a small radius in the snow.

Shoulders slumped, toes frozen
in wet boots, eyes fixed
on the dark spaces—
green and brown curtains
shrouded in smoke.

Once, the grain had run true—
blinds flung wide open,
gaze set on the horizon—
but in this particular time
of this particular year
the saw blade’s teeth grew dull,
ground down upon knots
and burls and barbed wire,
and despondent attempts at progress
were met with a shiver.

But still, the brush
needed to be cleared—
to burn and return
in simpler form
to the ground.

So the evergreens
smoldered slowly,
and there was no better course
than to wait in the periphery
for that inner glow
to come again.

Last First Day

Last First Day


How is one supposed to feel when commencing his or her final semester of college?

Today was truly my last first day as a Middlebury student, although I certainly didn’t spend it doing typical first-day-of-classes types of things. No bookstore visits or dropping off “add cards” to the registrar. Instead, I battled the snow day crowds at Mad River Glen and found the best powder turns and tree skiing of the season. The East has been getting hammered with snow recently, and this storm was the icing on the cake. 14-18″ of fresh, fluffy white stuff at the best ski mountain anywhere. I was fortunate to have a few friends join me, and we quickly concluded that it was the best first-day-of-classes ever.

The reason I was skiing and not inside listening to a professor? I have only three courses this semester, two of which are theses, and the third being a woodworking class that meets on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. I take independent work seriously – (see the athletic nutrition guide that Maddie and I made during Junior year) – but I trust myself enough at this point to know that I won’t procrastinate away my time. As I set aside wide open blocks of time each week, I know that if I can use these hours productively, I can afford myself timely adventures. Taking advantage of the best skiing conditions of the year was an adventure of which I wholeheartedly approved. So will be midweek overnights in Westport, hikes in the ‘Dacks, a few more powder days (hopefully!), and random excursions with close friends.

Now as I ponder the magnitude of launching a semester that I have anticipated so eagerly and for so long, I realize my biggest challenge and priority will be to carve out space. I’ve given myself time and trusted myself to use it productively, and to do so, I’ll need to do my best to find spaces that encourage creativity, eliminate distractions, and allow for sustained focus. These spaces are physical – establishing a thesis carol is high on my to-do list – and temporal – creating routines that give me the best chance to think clearly and operate efficiently. Keeping a daily “theses grind” journal of morning check-ins will be a way for me to stay on track, and dedicating my “20% time” to this blog will also give me purpose and opportunities for reflection. And if I stay on it, that will mean a comprehensive critical thesis, wild and poignant poems, more time in the wood shop, and the freedom to take adventures.

An Evening With Billy Collins

An Evening With Billy Collins

I was fortunate to spend an evening with Billy Collins during the fall semester’s  last week of classes. His reading filled Mead Chapel, and some of the most interested of us were able to attend a dinner with him afterwards.

I appreciated his unabashed admittance that poetry is an art form for the privileged. Yet, this understanding allows his poetry to feel so natural – simply because he does not attempts to subvert or disregard its limitations. Collins works within the form so naturally that his voice comes through in every line.

The cadence and pacing of his reading was wonderful, and his humility was apparent throughout. And yet, I could tell there is a fierce passion behind the self-deprecating humor. It is a desire to tell a story in a few simple lines – and to have that story stick.

This one in particular stuck with me. It is a gentle reminder to be humble and to accept love.


As young as I look,

I am growing older faster than he,

seven to one

is the ratio they tend to say.

Whatever the number,

I will pass him one day

and take the lead

the way I do on our walks in the woods.

And if this ever manages

to cross his mind,

it would be the sweetest

shadow I have ever cast on snow or grass.

(from Ballistics: Poems, Random House, 2010)