To celebrate that today is Turkey Day (at least in America), I’ve decided to post in its entirety our Thanksgiving-themed Virtual Poetorium from this Tuesday. Please enjoy, and have a great Holiday…
The Virtual Poetorium, November 24, 2020
RON: Normally at this time I have to tell everyone to hurry up and find a seat, but apparently everyone already has, so let’s jump right in and start the show…
Good evening, folks, and welcome to (believe it or not) our eighth Virtual Poetorium! If you look around, you can see we have a smaller group than usual, but I suspect that’s because it going to be Turkey Day in just a couple of days, and many of of our regulars are busy at home preparing their Thanksgiving feasts. So Paul and I want to thank all the diehards that did show up, especially the poet that trekked all the way from California to be here tonight. Thank you, thank you! Guys, you are all the best! And speaking of the best, I am pleased to announce that we have Howard J. Kogan, a fantastic poet I know you all know as our featured poet this evening. Howard was there at our very Poetorium at Starlite in May of 2019, and has remained a loyal friend and regular contributor to the Poetorium ever since. Way back in October of last year, we actually had scheduled Howard to be our feature then, but unfortunately he had to cancel due to an unexpected injury, so we are so grateful to finally have him here to read tonight!
Once again I am going to dispense with the rules of the show because I’m sure we all know what they are by now. But enough of my blabbering, I’m sure we are all eager to get this show on the road. Like always, I’ll start the show off with the first poem and then I’m going to turn the mic and podium over to Paul…
My Words May Never Cure the Disease or Cause World Peace
I lie, beached upon my couch
hoping the tide will go out soon
while humming a forgotten song
I drift in and out again
letting another day die
with the setting sun
There is a virus scratching at my back door
and I’m afraid to go anywhere
I lie believing I am waiting on the wrinkles
of time to summon me
Tonight sleep shall not share my bed
nor this old couch, I will be
reliving the dreams of failures
and the nightmares of my successes
Bored to near death, I am going out for a walk
Behind my mask, I smile with my clown face
and put on my floppy red shoes
to let the world laugh at me
if that’s what they wish to do
Here in the autumn wind
I pull my coat tighter around
this weathered frame of an old man
The leaves that fall
laugh as they pass by me by
protesting that there was no safety left
within the limbs of the trees
The death of the leaves is the final answer
for the trees to survive the approaching winter
that hurls all its cold threats in all directions
Love fuels the flames of memories and time
but my fields lie empty and dormant
while the crows and migratory birds that
pick at the remains of Autumns last harvest
I walk alone down empty streets and think
it may well be better to scream out loud
from behind this mask
then to exist and take the chance
within the silence of the virus that is waiting
for another clown like me
—Ron Whittle (written during the Covid 19 Pandemic of 2020)
PAUL: Ron makes an excellent point that since it’s almost Thanksgiving, most of us probably still have a lot of stuff to do. So in light of that, I will be skipping the “Mystery Poet” segment I usually present at this time, so we can hurry up and bring Howard Kogan up to the stage for his interview and feature. But before we do, I’d like to let you know a little more about Howard…
Howard J Kogan is a retired psychotherapist, poet and writer. He and his wife Libby moved to Ashland, MA in 2018 after spending thirty years in the Taconic Mountains of rural upstate New York. His poems have appeared in Still Crazy, Occu-Poetry, Naugatuck River Review, Up the River, Poetry Ark, Writer’s Haven, Farming Magazine, Pathways,and Award-Winning Poems from Smith’s Tavern Poet Laureate Contest (2010 and 2011 Editions) )as well as many other publications. His book of poems, Indian Summer, was published in 2011 by Square Circle Press and is available from the publisher or Amazon. His chapbook, General Store Poems, published in 2014 by Benevolent Bird Press, is available from the author. His latest book of poems, A Chill in the Air, was published in 2016 and is also available from the publisher, Square Circle Press or from Amazon. (Please buy it from Square Circle Press! http://www.squarecirclepress.com). His first (and last) novel, No View, was self-published in 2016 is available from Amazon as a paperback or on Kindle.
Please welcome to our virtual stage, Howard J Kogan…
RON: Well, Howard, please have a seat. Thank you so much for agreeing to be this month’s featured poet! Paul and I have been looking forward to this for a long time… I’ve been reading some of your work online. I had a similar experience with a young lady who was teaching a swimming class. Every time she would bend over, she would expose her breasts in her loose fitting bathing suit top. I think I was around 12 years old. I fell in love. I hadn’t thought about that in years. Oh yeah, back to the questions. If you had to pick one poet, who was your biggest influence?
HOWARD: I find it interesting, but not unusual, that my poems remind you of a beloved childhood memory. That it is that memory is curious, but … I’m retired, ahem, no comment.
I can’t pick one poet, though if I were forced, I could narrow it to a generous half dozen: Robert Frost, Philip Larkin, Sharon Olds, Donald Hall, Lucille Clifton, Lawrence Raab, Ellen Bass, Marie Howe, Billy Collins. I also read and hear many poems from friends, at open mics, and ongoing poetry groups I attend. Directly and indirectly I’m probably influenced by every poem I read or hear. How can’t you be?
RON: Where did your first interests in writing take you, subject matter wise?
HOWARD: I have been writing about pigeons and to a lesser degree chickens most of my life, mostly non-fiction articles, but poems and stories too. Breeding, showing, and flying pigeons and chickens have been lifelong interests. Did you know Frost wrote for the Farm-Poultryman before he was a poet?
RON: Your style of writing is very easy reading and it keeps the reader interested. What would you call that style?
HOWARD: I call it poetry, accessible, mostly narrative poetry. Some people have said my writing is a form of storytelling and I’m fine with that.
RON: The more I write the more I understand that with poetry, a poem is rarely ever finished, even after it has been published. Sometimes it’s just a matter of explaining something better, other times it’s just to change a few words to get a greater impact on the subject matter. Would you agree with that? And have you found yourself changing things long after the material has been produced?
HOWARD: Absolutely, I often look at old poems, even published ones, and revise them. Most of my poems, new and old, go through many revisions before almost anyone sees or hears them.
Some of my poems have been through more than 30 drafts, though more typically it’s between 10 and 20.
RON:. Do you find reading poetry is an important part of writing poetry?
HOWARD: I read some poetry every day, I don’t see how you can write poetry seriously without regularly reading it. Reading good writers is how one becomes a better writer.
RON: Do you proofread your own material? Even though I do try, what looks perfectly good to me means it equates out to a ton of mistakes.
HOWARD: I do, but I find if I put a poem away for a week or two between drafts, I catch more mistakes. Also reading the poem out loud helps. It is also useful to have poet “partners” you share work with, who also share their work with you, so you can edit each other’s work. Of course, that also happens in poetry groups. In each case it is important to focus on the poem, not the poet, and to be clear and direct in your feedback.
RON: What is your opinion on the length of poems? Personally, I try to keep mine to a page, I think anything longer than that is hard to keep the readers’ interest up.
HOWARD: It depends on the poem and what you’re trying to say. I like writing short stories and creative non fiction too, so I often need to decide what form works best for the subject.
Never underestimate your reader, if the material is good, they’ll stick with you. Some ideas can be briefly expressed, others require character development or plot development and need to go on some. One of Frost’s finest poems, The Death of the Hired Man, is practically a short story, but I can’t imagine a reader wouldn’t stick with it to the end. Incidentally, that poem, which I encountered as a 10 or 11-year-old, was what first turned me on to Frost and poetry.
RON: If you had to look back at your early writing, what would you change about it?
HOWARD: Probably everything.
RON: How many books have you published?
Two books of poetry, plus a chapbook were published in the traditional way, Indian Summer and A Chill in the Air by Square Circle Press, the chapbook, General Store Poems by Benevolent Bird Press. My novel, No View, I published through Create Space/Amazon.
RON: Paul do you have any questions for Howard to answer?
PAUL: Yes, thank you, Ron. I do have a few…
Howard, do you believe being a psychotherapist has influenced your writing, and if so, how?
HOWARD: It’s complicated. Being interested in understanding people and connecting with them and equally understanding myself and connecting with my inner self, motivated my choice of profession and my interest in poetry. None of my patients or clients has ever been portrayed in my writings, though other people (mostly family) often have.
PAUL: In 2011, you were crowned the Poet Laureate of Smith’s Tavern in Voorheesville, NY. Could you please let us know a bit more about that?
HOWARD: It was a contest in which a group of poets read three poems in rotation to a panel of judges and were scored. I was lucky enough to win that year, another year I was third, other years I didn’t do as well. It was a fun event sponsored by a group of local area poets led by a very fine poet, Dennis Sullivan. That group also ran a monthly open mic in Voorheesville, NY that I attended for years. I learned an incredible amount about poetry and the process of reading/performing poetry during that period.
PAUL: Four years ago, you published your very first (and according to your bio, last) novel, No View. Was writing a novel something you always wanted to do, and could you tell us what inspired you to write it, and what it is about?
HOWARD: It’s basically a highly fictionalized auto-biographical novel of my 20’s with a later ‘look back’ at that that period. The idea seized me and would not let go until it was finished. It’s very difficult to write a novel, both for the writer and the people in their life. I was more or less living in two worlds for the year or so I was writing it, my everyday world and the world of the novel. It was an exciting experience, but exhausting. I doubt I’ll be seized like that again or have the energy to do it again, though that possibility exists. All in all, I’m happy I wrote it and I wish more people would read it. (You can get the kindle version from Amazon for 99 cents! If you read it, please let me know what you think.)
If you ever feel similarly seized, I suggest you go for it!
PAUL: What is your opinion of poetry workshops and writers’ groups? Have you ever been a member of any, and do you feel they are vital in the development of a poet?
HOWARD: I’ve been to a handful of formal poetry workshops and classes. They’ve varied in their impact, but I must say I’ve always gotten some ideas that impacted my writing.
I’m currently in two poetry writing groups (both via zoom now). I find them very helpful and stimulating. Critique groups in particular are essential if one wants to raise the level of their writing. I recommend poets give them a try and find ones that match where they are at this point in their writing.
PAUL: Throughout the years, have you developed a writing routine, and if so, can you describe it to us?
HOWARD: When I was working full time, I wrote, but in ‘catch as catch can’ moments.
Since I’m largely retired now, I generally spend about 10 to 15 hours a week writing or revising poems or stories. More some weeks, less others. It can be helpful to schedule specific times to write and put it on your calendar. If I’m near my laptop, I’ll write on that, if not, I write in a notebook that I transfer to the laptop when I get a chance. I’m more or less thinking about writing most of the time and often make notes about an experience or idea that I can come back to later. The basic rule I have for myself is focus on writing/reading, I rarely watch TV and keep distractions like facebook or surfing the internet to a minimum.
Of course, we all have dozens of chores we must attend to, and relationships we want to maintain, but I try to make reading and writing a consistent, regular activity.
PAUL: My final question of the evening is one I like to ask most of the featured poets we interview at the Poetorium. What advice would you have for someone who is just starting to write poetry?
HOWARD: Write as much as you can, and don’t worry about how good or bad it is and don’t be in a hurry to show it to others. Being a beginner at any art is always awkward and intimidating.
You need to write a lot and to suspend your ‘inner critic’ to become a better writer. I know this is easier said than done, but struggle to do it. You need to write a lot of lousy poems or stories to learn to write better ones. This is true for all poets and writers.
Read poetry! Find poets you like and read as much as possible. Take yourself seriously! Write what you care about and care about what you write. Good luck!
PAUL: Well, I guess that concludes the interview portion of our program. Howard, thank you so much for such an engaging and thought-provoking interview! Now, everybody, we have a special treat for you. Please sit back and enjoy as Howard J Kogan honors us by presenting five new never-before-published poems…
Now that Covid -19 has clarified matters
I’m feeling somewhat encouraged that we’re all,
in a manner of speaking, on the same page and
can agree, that from the moment of conception,
Mother Nature, as if in the grip of creator’s remorse,
is doing her best to kill us, the more of us there are,
the harder she tries. Eight billion people using
her as a dump and sewer was not her plan.
Forgiving our trespasses has its limits.
When Mother Nature creates new diseases
and perpetuates old ones, who can blame her?
But retail deaths, one here, one there, take forever.
So, periodically she goes wholesale; wars help,
but to make the big quotas sing you need pandemics
like the Black Plague, Spanish flu, Covid-19 or
some other teeming petri dish of lurking nasties
waiting to devour your organs the way Uncle Irv
works his way through the buffet at family weddings.
Mother Nature wants a little peace and quiet.
She has a plan. You may not like it.
––Howard J Kogan
I dreamt last night of playing Red Rover
as we did in the long twilight of summer.
Someone was calling from the other side,
Red Rover, Red Rover, Let Joanie come over!
Joan, my older sister and I, holding hands
holding hands, standing side by side,
I don’t remember her playing Red Rover,
but last night she was there on our side.
And when she let my hand go and went over,
I knew she would not be coming back.
—Howard J Kogan
New Year’s Day
It’s morning on a chilly New Year’s Day,
only you and the young children are not hungover,
your silent family, today even more oblivious than usual,
sits mutely watching the TV that’s on to occupy the children.
It’s the Rose Bowl Parade from sunny Pasadena,
and when the float from the Shriners Hospital for Children
comes into view, your eyes fill.
The float is escorted by fez topped clowns on tiny tricycles
tossing candy to the youngsters lining the parade route.
An announcer says it’s made of forty-thousand red and white
chrysanthemums, and thirty-thousand blue forget-me-nots.
The forget-me-not’s start a slow trickle of tears,
ignored by all but the smallest child in the room, who
like a nurse out of options in the middle of a long night,
comes to you and holds your hand,
a home remedy older than words.
—Howard J Kogan
You know how at the end of the day I like to walk the path
that marks the borders of our small farm and woodlot,
you called it my patrolling the known world.
Well this evening it was different; odd and unsettling.
I hope if I tell you, the strangeness will diminish
the way shame or fear is lessened when it’s shared.
You know how I am,
I would protect us from harm, not bring it home,
but tonight, I felt I was followed.
So, let me tell you what I saw and why I regret
coming directly home, though the home lights looked
so like a safe harbor, I couldn’t help myself.
I should have thought of it before, but I was unnerved,
as if I’d seen a ghost, knowing full well there are no ghosts.
Maybe it was a trick of the eye, or the play of shadows,
or I was overtired; what I’m saying is, whatever it seemed; it’s not.
I know this much; I was walking the path that runs along
the stone wall when some movement caught my eye,
I thought it was a bird or squirrel.
It was slipping beyond the hour of deep shadow into dusk,
yet it seemed to me light enough to see.
I looked toward the movement, saw nothing but a shadow,
though I thought for an instant, of a drawing of a family,
like you might see in a child’s picture book.
When I looked again, I thought I saw a woman,
someone who looked familiar, someone I’ve seen before,
but long ago, walking with a little girl.
As I walked on, they walked along with me on the other side
of the wall moving neither closer, nor away. Nothing was said.
I heard only my footsteps on the fallen leaves,
yet as I turned toward home, I felt I was followed.
It was a feeling, I didn’t look.
Look at what, I said to myself, there’s nothing there!
Where they are now, I don’t know.
I don’t know what to think, if I look,
they might be standing at the door
or maybe they’re back on the other side.
Though as I say this, I wonder if, as we get close to leaving this world,
we get a glimpse of the world to come, see others who’ve crossed over
as you have and I will soon enough. That would be a gift,
a hint that when we get there, we won’t be so alone,
a barely noticeable sign, the way in winter there comes a day
that tells you Spring is on the way.
Maybe what I saw was like that,
a glimpse there’s something beyond the wall
we were once so certain marked the end.
—Howard J Kogan
On a solitary morning walk along the slickrock,
I recall why this sandpapery sandstone terrain
carries this odd, old cowboy name.
American Indians rode their horses on rimrock
but clad with iron shoes, the cowboy’s horses
tended to lose their footing.
Sudden drop-offs into deep crevices
and canyons made it a troubling place
for a horse to lose its footing.
The sudden clattering of hooves losing their grip,
the cowboy’s yelp and whoa
the slap of horseflesh hitting the slickrock,
then, in slow motion, the terrified white-eyed
horse struggling to regain its footing,
the bewildered, open-mouthed rider,
cinched together, sliding over the edge
into history and language.
—Howard J Kogan
PAUL: Bravo! Bravo! That was just fantastic! I just love these new poems of yours, Howard. Everybody, let’s please show our appreciation for such an outstanding feature by placing our hands together, and giving a rip-roaring round of applause for Howard J Kogan!
As usual, we’ll be taking a short intermission, but before we do, it’s now time once again to present this month’s Poetorium group poem. Since it’s November, this month’s poem suitably has a Thanksgiving theme. Participants were asked to email us one to six lines starting with the short phrase “We are thankful for…” All contributions received (which this month, for some reason, there were very few) were then compiled into the following poem:
What We Are Thankful For…
We are thankful for the existence of words –
The essence of human communication
And vital lifeblood of all poetry
Including this humble effort.
We are thankful for walks in the sunshine,
Music by great composers
Authors of classics
And poets of every age.
We are thankful for the way the air smells
After a rain storm
And our ability to appreciate it
During these Covid times.
We are thankful for my mom and dad, sister too,
and uncles and aunts, nieces, cousins, friends
All the year through.
I also love my thanksgiving dinner.
I get to sit with everyone for a beer or two..
Happy Thanksgiving to you all!
As you probably know, normally all contributions to the group poem remains anonymous, but tonight I’d like to break that policy and acknowledge the only three poets, besides myself, who participated in this month’s poem – two of our loyal regulars, Barbera Roberts and Dwayne Szlosek, and someone who participated in the Poetorium for the very first time, Elizabeth Thomas from Connecticut. Thank you, thank you so much! I am so grateful to you for keeping this monthly tradition I treasure alive…
Well, I guess that appears to be the end of the first part of tonight’s Virtual Poetorium. We’ll be taking an even briefer than usual intermission so you can grab a drink, contemplate all the great poetry you have heard from Howard tonight, and perhaps even purchase a copy of one of his amazing books available at our virtual vendor’s table. When we come back, we’ll be presenting the submissions we received for not just one, but two writing challenges (our regular monthly form challenge and a special thematic one) followed by the virtual open mic hosted by Ron.
PAUL: Welcome back, everyone. We just need to unveil the submissions we received for this month’s Poetorium writing challenges, and then Ron can start the open mic…
For this month’s Poetorium writing form challenge, we switched from flash fiction to poetry and invited everone to write what is commonly known as an abecedarian or alphabet poem, a short poem consisting of exactly 26 words in alphabetical order. Along with our monthly form writing challenge, for this month only on the occasion of Thanksgiving, we also had a special thematic one as well suggested by longtime regular and friend of the Poetorium, Dwayne Szlosek. The challenge (if one chooses to accept it, and apparently hardly anyone did) was to write about what you believe happens to turkeys after they die (What is their afterlife like? Do they become ghosts, go to poultry paradise, or something else?) in any form you wished:a poem, a song, a short story, an essay, or even an investigative piece of journalism as long as it was under 1000 words. I am sorry to report that besides myself, only two people rose to meet those challenges (even our fearless leader Ron chickened out): true stalwarts, Dwayne and Barbera Roberts. So I will call up both to the stage so they can personally present their efforts, first the form challenge and then the thematic one. First up is Dwayne:
What Happens to Turkeys When They Die
The butchers snicker as turkeys go through the processing plant.
Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter, gets overwhelmed with spiritual turkeys
on Thanksgiving day in Heaven…
—Dwayne Szlosek (© 11\15\2020)
Abundant Birds, Common Discovery, Expanding Field Guide
Has In Justify Killing Loons, Murder Never Obtained Personally.
Questions Russia’s Statute To UN. Very Witty XXX Yeltsin’s Zippers…
PAUL: Thank you, Dwayne! Now it is Barbera’s turn…
Thanksgiving at the Schrodinger’s (Thanksgiving 2020)
Every Thanksgiving since 1935 the Schrodinger family gets together for Thanksgiving. Now in the 21st century there are about 45 close members left of the clan. Being descendants of the great man himself – some of them are currently scientists – they all agreed to the following family tradition. That tradition being to bring a turkey in a box. Now just like Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrodinger’s cat no one in the family knows whether the turkey which is in the box is alive or dead.
Many of them understand the LaPlacian operators and they know that quantum particles of the turkey can exist in a superposition of states at the same time. These can collapse down to a single state (I.e. a live turkey in the box or a dead turkey in the box.) The question each member of the family asks themselves is( “Will we eat turkey this thanksgiving or will we eat Mala’s hot dogs?” And of course they will not know until they open the box.
Pretty soon everyone has arrived – all 45 of the surprisingly intelligent grandsons and granddaughters along with a few great grandchildren. The box is placed on the roosting pan. The tension is at its highest. Some are salivating. Some are resigned. Mala being the great granddaughter is the cook and it is her responsibility to open the box.
It’s time. She reaches down and inserts a knife along the box’s edge and cuts the perforated cardboard. And there…and there…and there…is….
…What do you think?
—Barbara H. Roberts
Untitled Alphabet Poem
Alice buys cool
Drinks every Friday
Giving her instincts
Learning more nothings
On prizewinning questions
Re: stumpers today
Until very wisely
Xeroxing yesterday’s zingers
––Barbara H. Roberts
PAUL Thank you, Barbera! Now I guess I need to go. I confess I was stumped by Dwayne’s thematical writing challenges, but I managed to scribble this right before the show began:
Living in a Poultry Paradise
I like to think that the afterlife of turkeys
(At least, for the American ones) is an alternate reality
Where Benjamin Franklin managed to persuade his fellow
Founding Fathers to declare them the National Bird,
So they are no longer associated with Thanksgiving,
But Independence Day instead. So now, like cows in India,
The gobbler, is now sacred, venerated, free to wander
Through its eternal existence wherever it wishes,
Feasting on plump golden kernels of corn
From vast silver troughs which every American citizen
has erected in their backyard to pay tribute
to this most magnificent of fowls. And when that familiar
Thursday in late November rolls around, they can rest easy,
Secretly snickering that some once arrogant Bald eagle
will be plucked, basted and served as the traditional
Main course on holiday tables through out the USA.
I think I maybe cheating with this abecedarian, since I wrote this one years ago that was published in The Issue, but I like to dedicate it to my two fellow alphabet poets…
Ode to an Abecedarian Poet
Abecedarian bard composing doggerel,
elegies for God. His inspiration?
Just kooky, loony, monomaniacal
notions of poetry. Quite ridiculous!
Stacking twenty-six unrelated words-
xenophilic, yawping zaniness!
—Paul Szlosek (originally published in The Issue)
Well, that’s it! Dwayne and Barbera, thank you for such wonderful work!
Okay, before Ron starts the open mic, I just want to note that since its a real quiet night and we only have a handful of people who signed up, anyone who wishes will be allowed to read two pieces instead of the usual one. Now take it away, Ron…
RON: Thanks, Paul! As I usually do, I will kick off the open mic with a poem of my own…
She Danced With Me
Loving her was never an option
it was a given
She was the soft bed of pine needles
that cushioned my every step
into all of her unknowns
I was the empty vessel
that thirsted to receive
all that was hers
She was the one who rode
all my goosebumps leaving me
Her flesh wet with sweat
tasted the sweetness of holy water
that permeated all the taste buds
on my tongue
There is the softness to
the blurred edges
of her skin against mine
while her lips moved softly
touching and beckoning me
to play hers like a love song
She never lacked for
the innocence of spring
and you could never confuse
for not being winter or fall
She found no interest in
and was anything but tame
I wanted everything she
held as a secret not to be told
I tried to make a goddess out of her
through my lust, greed, and pride
On my knees
I banged at the gates of heaven
saying amen after every hallelujah
as the angels watched
from a distance
not knowing what to do with me
—Ron Whittle (2020)
RON: Now please welcome to the podium, Joe Fusco Jr. who makes his third appearance in a row at the Virtual Poetorium…
Knuckles to Knuckles
My wife goes to bed at 10 pm.
She has work in the morning.
I stay up and watch the news after taking my Ambien.
I like feeling unsettled.
When I join her in the bedroom, my wife is sleeping on her back,
her left hand outstretched.
I put on my CPAP and mouthguard then position myself on my right side,
my left hand extended.
Our knuckles graze.
My wife doesn’t like cuddling or even touching anything in her sleep
but I keep the knuckles in place and hope it doesn’t disturb her.
We have slept together for thirty-five years now.
Like any couple, we’ve had our share of joys and sorrows:
Four astonishing children, nine beautiful grandkids.
I’ve lost my Mom, Dad, and younger brother.
Cyndi watched her Mom pass and Covid took her Dad.
We are both navigating the semi-golden years.
God knows how much longer we’ll keep our health, our house, our connection.
I just know we’ll try, knuckles to knuckles, to carry on.
—Joe Fusco Jr.
RON: Next up is Meg Smith, who was our fantastic featured poet last month…
MEG: This poem, “Gray Cat Tidings,” recalls two gray and white cats, Jake and Serena, that my late husband and I adopted. They both died last December, within days of each other. They were a link to him as well as loved in their own right…
Gray Cat Tidings
When you claimed
a streak of sunlight
after the hurricane,
you marked your inheritance —
the coming of winter
in green eyes, a place called fire.
A brother in a white space
dissolves; two beings of dust, ions
cast a trail from the front hall
to the back stairs.
This is all, and done.
There’s no more well met.
Shadows fail, and night
creeps in from the doorstep.
RON: Our next poet I am sure will be a familiar face to all our regulars –
the Poetorium’s good friend (and Paul’s cousin) Dwayne Szlosek…
Turkey’s Last Days
Turkeys have it easy on the farm,
E – I – E- I – OWE.
They get fat and lazy from the farmer’s feed.
E – I – E- I – OWE.
Not knowing where they are going,
or end up at.
E- I – E- I – OWE.
But we know where they are going to be –
in our stomachs on Thanksgiving day,
E- I – E- I – OWE.
Then out the muddy slide shoot into a stinky tank,
where they will stay for a year
before they will see daylight again,
when they will be pumped out
and never to be seen again.
E – I – E – I – OWE.
That is Jenga…
—Dwayne Szlosek (© 11\13\2020)
Thank you all, you all were great tonight. Happy Thanksgiving to you all!
RON: Here is another poet who has been a wonderful friend and loyal supporter of the Poetorium, Barbera Roberts…
BARBERA: I am so glad to be back speaking at the Poetorium. What a great pair of organizers. Well, tonight I am going to recite another of my squirrels stories… so here goes.
Well, some of you may never have heard of Simon P. Chase. Let me introduce you and then tell you of his most recent experiences with Covid-19.Simon P. Chase is a grey squirrel who lives near Worcester, Massachusetts. His mother named him after Lincoln’s secretary of the treasury but she got his middle name wrong because she did not have an internet connection. Simon has two close friends. Owl is wise and Raven only says “Never more, Never more.” Well, one day Simon was crossing the street as he usually does in the Fall – mostly to gets nuts that have fallen on the other side. He found a cell phone which had fallen out of a young girl’s back pocket. He kept it. And he got in a lot of different kinds of trouble through his untutored use of that cell phone…
Simon’s Covid Cases
Recently Simon was sleeping with his wife in his tree home. His cell phone was nearby. It went off with an emergency message. It was a COVID-19 emergency alert sent by the Governor of Massachusetts. The alert notified Worcester residents that they live in a high-risk community. The Governor’s purpose was to remind them to remain on guard against the virus.
Simon and his wife jumped out of bed. “Emergency, emergency”, they cried.
Simon’s wife said “What kind of emergency?
Simon said “I don’t know. What is covid?”
His wife said “I don’t know. Maybe it’s some kind of new hawk.”
Simon said “Yes, yes. We could use a warning about hawks. But how would Governor Baker know when a hawk is flying over our house?”
She said “Well…I don’t know. Can you use google to find out what kind of hawk is a covid hawk?”
Simon quickly got on line.
Simon found the reference and said to his wife. “Its not a hawk. It’s a disease.”
She said, “What kind of disease?”
Simon said “I don’t know but one can go and get tested downtown to find out if you have it. Something about putting a stick up your nose.”
His wife said “You haven’t put a stick up your nose since you were a kid, why would you do it now?”
Simon said “I only want to know if I have Covid or not. It is an awful disease – millions upon millions of people are dying from it…an unknown number of squirrels too!”
Waving goodbye to Simon, his wife yelled out “Be sure to be home for Thanksgiving supper.”
So Simon P. Chase and his two friends headed down to Worcester for the free Covid testing behind city hall. Simon took bus number 6 and owl and raven flew. Raven was a little confused because he is a corvid. That’s a class of birds, crows and ravens and such. Are the humans afraid of us, he wondered. He was about to ask the others but thought the better of it.
As they arrived behind city hall there were a number of humans lined up. They all had masks on. Soon a man – an organizer- came to Simon and his friends and informed them they can not have a covid test unless they have their masks on. Puzzled, Owl found out that the three of them could get a free mask nearby. Owl flew over and picked up one for each of them. Now the masks were for humans and therefore large of all three friends. Being good sports each put the mask on and got in line. Simon’s more than covered his eyes, Owl’s mask had a hard time being secured to his ears. Raven flapped his wings and the mask went all the way down to his chest.
Soon the organizer came along again and told them to remain six feet apart. “Maintain social distancing; maintain social distancing!” He pointed to human foot prints on the ground. Our friends had not been maintaining social distancing – indeed they had never heard of it before. “Okay, okay, Mister,”said Owl. “If you hadn’t noticed we animals generally stay more than six feet away from humans.” Simon seconded that with “When did you ever see a squirrel less than six feet from a human? Well…maybe a kind human giving out food to squirrels but not the run of the mill human.” Then Simon remembered his uncle… how a human shot and killed his uncle cause he didn’t like squirrels. He started to retell the old story to his friends but Raven interrupted and said “Never more, Never more”, which for once was a rather appropriate comment.
Pretty soon they got to the medical technician. He had his mask on and his plastic shield. Owl said “Wow! This must be some horrendous disease. I hope we owls don’t get it.” Raven said “Never more, never more.”
The technician looked at our three friends and was puzzled. “Hmm, he said to himself…I must be seeing things. I think I am hallucinating …from covid.” And he stuck one of the stick up his own nose. When he was finished he came back to Simon and his friends and he took three sterile nasal swabs and stuck it up Simon’s, Owl’s and Raven’s noses.
Now of course the swab was made for the noses of human beings not squirrels, owls or ravens. So like the masks – the swab was a little too large. As the technician stuffed it up our squirrel’s nose Simon moved his tail all over the place. Up and down, up and down, sidewise, then straight out, then straight up, and finally he curled it in a very tight curl. Owl having heard that Covid might have been made in a biological warfare lab said “Who!!!! Who!!! Who made this and let it out of the biowarfare lab?” Raven really irritated said in a screeching voice “Never more, Never more!”
Well, the technician let them relax while he went off to get the 20 minutes results. A short while later he was back – still blinking his eyes and thinking that he had covid and was hallucinating …why else would he be seeing talking squirrels and owls and the like?
“Well, gentlemen” said the technician “the results are in. You, Mister Owl and you Mr Raven tested negative but you Mister Chase tested positive.”
All three friends were now excited. They all clamored “What does that mean; what does that mean?!”
The technician said “Mr. Chase, you must quarantine for two weeks. That is absolutely mandatory. No going to work. No visiting friends or relatives. No parties. No music or art events. You must go directly home and stay there all by yourself. Stay away from anyone else in the house. Wash your hands all the time, Wash down your door knobs. Rest and don’t even go out for groceries.”
Simon thought “Hands? Door knobs? I don’t have hands and we don’t have door knobs in the nest.”
Then the technician turned to Owl and Raven and said “You have been exposed to covid by being with Mr. Chase and you also have to self-quarantine. Do you understand?” He added “Soon someone will come to your house and interview you for contact tracing. Now please go home.”
Simon, Owl and Raven started home. Simon didn’t know if he was supposed to take the bus or not. So he decided to hop home. Owl and Raven flew. Upon arriving at Simon’s house Owl checked the news and found a Mr. Musk, an inventor and rocket specialist, had been tested four times in one day…with two positive and two negative results. So he called Simon. “Simon, stop in at Walgreen’s on your way home and get tested again. Maybe you will be negative.” So Simon did just that. And the test came back negative!
Finally after walking all the way home and stopping at Walgreens Simon reached his tree. His wife said “Where have you been? I’ve been worried.” Simon said “I have covid. I don’t have covid. I have to self quarantine. And I don’t have to quarantine.”
His wife gave him a hug and said “I just put on a nice warm pan of hickory nuts for thanksgiving diner. Would you like to have some now?”
And so Simon settled down for a nice warm evening with his wife.
—Barbera H. Roberts
RON: Now please welcome back Mishelle Goodwin, who first joined us this July, in her second appearance at the Poerorium…
MISHELLE: First, here is a poem…
Thanksgiving is to do things together.
not everyday but,
once and a while.
Just getting together to Celebrate
and once and awhile
we share our happy thoughts
To have fun and share love
For the Holidays
May you fill them with Cheer!
—Mishelle Goodwin (11/19/2020)
And now, my short story…
It was an Autumn day where the leaves all have changed, cold, and dark. It had been raining all day and the leaves started fluttering to the ground. It was November and it was getting close to Thanksgiving. My mother and I had just finished shopping for Thanksgiving Dinner. It was going to be at her house. We got a 20lb. Turkey, Stuffing, Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes. Carrots, Yams and Squash. Cranberry Sauce and Gravy. Dinner Rolls, Pumpkin and Apple Pie. Cheese Cake with Red and White Wine with Hazelnut Coffee. Whipped cream with whipped cream and cherry’s.
As we put everything away we pull out the table to decorate it for supper tomorrow night. Placing a table cloth on the table with place mats to match. The napkins, plates, and silverware that matched. A serving plater for the turkey. A creamer and sugar bowl. Plates with glasses to match as well.
Mom slowly prepares the turkey with stuffing and gravy and places it in the oven to cook at 150 degrees to let it cook very slowly until tomorrow night all golden brown and hot rolls as well to taste to melt in your mouth. Getting three kinds of potatoes ready for the oven and prepares the squash and cut, pealed, and washed carrots in a pan with water and sets it aside on the stove all ready for tomorrow night.
It is ten pm. and thinking to her self that the last minute shopping the night before she puts up the Christmas tree. She decorates it with garland and bulbs. Colored and white lights that blink. Places the Nativity scene of Jesus on the coffee table in the Livingroom with the tree. As she goes into the bed room she goes into the closet to get all of the gifts out and wraps them to place them under the tree when she is done.
It is after mid-night and she while she checks the oven and stove she covers everything with a lid so it won’t spoil. She bought a camera to take pictures to send with a thank-you cards and now that she has a minute to make name cards for everyone so that they will have a place to sit and serve themselves. Supper starts at six, opening gifts at eight, and dessert at ten-thirty.
Meanwhile the kids are sleeping and mom decides to check everything again like a fine tooth comb. She turns on the radio to listen to some music to stay awake she get’s the music for tomorrow night ready and puts the radio on low.
She decides to make some homemade chocolate chip cookies, chocolate pudding with whipped cream on top, and chocolate fudge with walnuts to make for goodie bags with green, gold, and red ribbons with bows for them to take home as a treat.
Everything is slowly cooking on the stove on low it is four in the evening the guests should be arriving soon. Cakes and cookies are all done nice in ribbons and bows. Pies are done and the turkey will be ready at six cut, carved, and ready to eat. Stuffing is in a bowl with the cranberry sauce.
She is cooking the potatoes and squash with the carrots and yams. And while she does the she bakes three apple and pumpkin pies for dessert at seven thirty. It is six pm and everything is done and being served. They begin to eat still talking saying pass the gravy and cranberry sauce or pass the cream and sugar.
While everyone is eating they notice the tree with gifts. And they ask Peggy their mom what is it with the tree and gifts? No one else brought anything just themselves Peggy. Yah! Peggy What’s up with that as they all laugh. She said, It’s Thanksgiving and we all have a lot to be grateful for.
So, after every one has finished they talk to one another and get seated in their chairs, serving themselves, and eating. They are all still talking and listening to music. They have finished and it is nine thirty. Every one is getting ready to leave the grab their gifts and goodie bags and get ready to go home. They say their good-byes and shake hands, hug, and kiss.
While the kids are out with their father at the park and going to have pizza at Zoey’s eat and run on main street tonight it is open until one in the morning. They stayed out all night until eleven thirty the next morning. Every thing is put away and clean. By the time the kids and their father get back home. But Peggy, their mom is asleep and when they were all at home so did they.
—Mishelle Goodwin (11/19/2020)
RON: Last but not least on our open mic, please welcome a fantastic friend and loyal supporter of the Poetorium, Eugenie Steinman, who travelled all the way from California to be here tonight:
EUGENIE: Thank you, Paul and Ron. I love the Poetorium at Starlite! I tried the alphabet poem writing challenge – my respect and admiration for those who did it.
When my mom moved from Brooklyn to Miami Beach Florida I would visit her every year around the holidays.I watched the senior citizens strolling along the esplanade in their black oxford shoes (little heels on the women’s and fine black leathers, polished – the men’s were flat). One year I noticed they were wearing shoes like mine – Reebok’s running shoes. They had picked up the pace and some were doing the jog. This was my inspiration for…
The Final Mile
The senior citizens of today
Don’t worry about health going astray
Or even life going away.
Instead they ponder that final mile
That they must face for the marathon trial.
And dreams no longer memory bound
Soar above that Boston Ground.
There they are at 84,
The one to beat Bill Rogers score.
—Eugenie Steinman (from Persimmon: Poems and Recipes)
RON: Okay, before I close out the show tonight, let’s call back to the microphone, my co-host Paul Szlosek so he can recite one of his own poems for you…
PAUL: Thank you, Ron! Since Thanksgiving to me is very much about family, I’d like to share with you tonight a poem about my late father, which was first published in Silkworm 11…
News at the Eleventh Hour
My father may not hated baseball,
but being a farmer and a practical man,
had no use for it. What he did have use for
was the Channel 4 Eyewitness News at 11 O’Clock
or more precisely, its nightly weather report.
Since he was his own boss and had no one else to tell him
what to do, he relied on Don Kent, TV meteorologist,
to help him decide his work schedule for the following day –
a forecast of rain meaning the difference
between a morning spent grading eggs
in the basement, and one out in the field
picking sweet corn or tomatoes.
Every night, my father would turn on
our black and white set in the living room
a few minutes before prime time programming ended,
and settle into his favorite comfy chair,
waiting for his sacred local news to begin.
But seemingly as often as not, instead on the screen,
there’d be some athletic event going long,
extending into overtime, and my father would slap
the side of his chair with a calloused palm
and mutter “damn ball game, damn ball game”.
He referred to every sport as that “damn ball game”
(tennis, golf, even hockey), but baseball was always
the worse offender. In theory, baseball can last for an eternity,
a game easily stretching from the standard nine into endless innings.
Another man might have simply changed the channel
but he was too loyal to Don Kent, not trusting those idiot weathermen
with their coiffured hair and hundred dollar suits on channels 5 and 7.
So he sat there, his frustration mounting as the wall clock ticked
toward midnight. And then, just when he thought it was all mercifully
coming to an end, with the Red Sox down by three at the bottom
of the 12th, some Boston slugger like Yaz, Carlton Fisk, or Fred Lynn
would smack a homer out of Fenway Park and tie it all up.
An hour later, the Boston Red Sox would defeat the Yankees,
the Orioles, the Twins (or whoever was their opponent that night),
and my dad as well, who (robbed of that essential weather report)
had long switched off the television and all the lights,
and wearily dragged himself off to bed to sleep the remaining,
dwindling hours before he had to rise at dawn,
a chorus of “damn ball game, damn ball game”
echoing through out the darkened house…
—Paul Szlosek (originally published in Silkworm 11)
Before I hand the microphone back to Ron to finish the show, I’d like to make a couple of quick announcements:
First, I just want to thank everyone that participated in tonight’s program including our feature Howard Kogan, those few diehards who contributed to our Thanksgiving group poem and this month’s writing challenges, and especially everyone in the virtual open reading,: Barbera, Dwayne, Joe, Mishelle, Meg, and Eugenie. As I say in every show and truly mean it: you really are all amazing people and poets and without all of you, the Poetorium in any form would not exist!
Second, I know Ron would like to place the Poetorium on hiatus next month in December due to the hectic Christmas season like we did last year, but I myself am very partial to holiday poetry gatherings (virtual or otherwise). So I thought if enough people are interested, maybe we can have have a bonus abbreviated Christmas-themed session (no feature, just an open mic, and maybe a group poem). Please let me know what you think after the show, and if I can find at least 5 people to commit to participating, we’ll give this special “Virtual Ho-ho-etorium” a go (clever name, huh?).
Now back to you, Ron…
RON: Thanks, Paul! And now folks it’s time to end this month’s show. It’s always hard to come up with something that is appropriate for closing, but I am going to take a cue from Paul and stick with the “family” theme…
Reflections of Mom
I learned to speak
through the language
of my mother
She taught me
with her rich milk of
She instilled in me what
she believed in
Her blood pumps through
Her fire is my fire
She nurtured my bones
since the day I was born
and who would I be
if she hadn’t put the
fire in my heart
and the gravel in my eye
It has always been
about me and never about her
She knew one day I would
understand and one day
my time would come
She wore motherhood as well
if not better than most
To me, she was home
to her, I was her son
but she had a temper
when it came to her making
apple pies and you needed
to move quickly to get
out of the house
Dad taught me that
—Ron Whittle (2020)
Good night, everyone (waving his hand)! May peace be with you and yours, please stay healthy, and have a Happy Thankgiving! I realize that Paul may have other ideas, but I don’t believe we will be seeing each other until next year, so have a Merry Christmas as well, and we’ll catch everyone in 2021! And as always, good night, Mrs Cowart, where ever you are!