Virtual Ho-Ho-etorium (December 28, 2021)

Paul Szlosek and Friend

PAUL: Good evening, everybody! Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas?

Welcome to our Second Annual Virtual Ho-Ho-etorium! I really appreciate all you kind folks taking time away from your hectic holiday schedules to be here tonight, as well as all those who supported and participated in the Virtual Poetorium throughout the past year. Like last year’s Ho-Ho-etorium, tonight will be a bit different than our usual show since there is no featured poet or interview, but instead, we will have two virtual open mics featuring Holiday-themed poetry and stories (one before and one after our break) and of course, the good old group poem. We will also be suspending the usual one work limit per person for each open mic.

This year, Joan Erickson, a long-time fixture in the Worcester County poetry community, and a wonderful friend to the Poetorium passed away on May 20th.

Joan Erickson (1937-2021)

Regular attendees of the Poetorium may recall that Joan generously donated the beautifully-crafted wooden podium that her late husband Bob originally built for the  Poet’s Parlor (a poetry venue that I once ran and Joan was a dedicated participant) to the Poetorium which we used for our live shows at the Starlite in Southbridge. Although she was never able to attend in person, she frequently participated in our virtual open mic including our first Ho-Ho-etorium. As a tribute to her memory as well as to her incredibly gentle slice-of-life poetry, I’d like to start tonight’s show with her three poems that she presented here last December…

I Shovel a Path

I shovel a path
for oil-man to fill tank,
use wide shovel – deep snow –
two or three feet.

Maybe the man could walk on top –
I try it – sink – so know he’ll sink
as he drags the hose.

I start shoveling. Dig – lift – throw to one
side – dig – lift – throw to one side.
Stop and rest – lean on shovel.

Gaze at snow covering yard –
field – stone walls. Blue shadows
slant across white surface.

I listen – listen some more – silence –
pure as the snow – and peaceful –
so peaceful.

I dig – lift – throw – too deep to shovel
to the ground – remove layers –
maybe two layers.

Can see the oil tank lid –
keep digging – stop and rest –
study the sky – deep blue
with wisps of clouds
moving slowly.

I dig – lift – throw – move toward
target. I know the man
will be happy.

Start back – shoveling as I go
over my own footprints. Maybe
tomorrow I will come out
and do some more.

But, if the wind is blowing –
if the temperature
drops, if the sun hides,
I will be in the house
playing with these words.

—Joan Erickson (02/23/15)

Red, White, and Blue Day

I hear the snowblower
as it does its job clearing
away snow and ice from
our first big storm.

Sun shines on the snow
on cars parked in view
from my windows.
Their rear red lights glow
in the morning sun.

My neighbor’s car is bright
blue. My dark blue jeep is
parked at the end of this
building and waits with others
to be shoveled off.

When I go to the windows
I can look out at the bright
blue sky.

When I finish this poem
I will stand up and say
good morning to this
red, white, and blue day.

—Joan Erickson (11/26/20)

Christmas Present

My oldest Granddaughter,
Jennifer, gave me a cat
for Christmas – a wooden cat –
almost the size of a real cat.
It now sits on my harvest table.

It has orange and gray tiger stripes
and has white on its nose and paws
and on the end of its tail. It is
a wooden puzzle made of large
pieces – easy to take apart and
put together.

I have named this cat ‘Puzzles.’ She
is very good – doesn’t scratch the
furniture and doesn’t need a litter box
and if I get bored during tomorrow’s
big snow storm, I can take her apart
and put her back together again and
not one scratch will I get.

I love my new cat.
Thank you, Jennifer.

—Joan Erickson (01/03/2018)

PAUL: Now first up in our first open mic of the night is our good friend of the Poetorium, and the host of the monthly open poetry share at the Booklover’s Gourmet in Webster, Massachusetts, Bob Perry…

Robert Eugene Perry

BOB: Hello Poetorium‭!

Here are two Christmas poems I recently read at Tidepool Bookshop for my Solstice feature.‭ ‬Both can be found in my most recent collection of poetry,‭ ‬Surrendering to the Path.

Born Anew

What is it that we await
to be born in us each Christmas day‭?

We hold our breath in advent’s hope
this year will bring the savior home.

Two thousand years of stories told
how can the message not seem old‭?

What new meaning finds its worth
in retelling the Messiah’s birth‭?

A new star risen in the east
to give hope to the lost and least,

the Word has come to impregnate
every fertile heart by faith

and Mary shows us in due time
we must each give birth to the divine.

—Robert Eugene Perry (originally published in Surrendering to the Path)

Reflecting on Christmas

Before recovery‭
Christmas was painful.

The coming of the giver of Life‭
only highlighted‭
my own self-centeredness.

I hid my face‭
in a barrel of Whiskey‭
hoping I would drown,

till one day He came down,
gently lifted my head and said:
I can raise you from the dead.

Do you wish to be made well‭?

Those words broke‭
the sodden spell‭ –

the gates of hell
and I whispered

–Robert Eugene Perry (originally published in Surrendering to the Path)

PAUL: Thank you, Bob! And now please welcome to the stage, a long-time regular of the Virtual Poetorium, Meg Smith…

Meg Smith Earlier This Month After the Snowfall at Acton Arboretum in Acton, MA

MEG: It’s amazing how quickly the holidays seem to come as an adult, while as a kid they can’t come fast enough! I think during the winter festivities, people can feel a sense of drawing close together — but there can also be moments of solitude. A person can even be surrounded by family and friends and still feel alone. The following three poems, “Nativity on Boston Common,” “Forest Land,” and “A Man Watches Snow and Disappears”, are inspired by different scenarios of the solitary moments that can make themselves known, even as the holidays draw near…

Nativity on Boston Common

The gilded pillars of the theater
have drawn me up to heaven.
I remain within it,
even when crossing Beacon Street
to the T stop. My city is peopled
with the angels and ghosts of
my father and grandfather, and
my grandmother,
on a line at Schrafft’s Candy.
The Holy Family,
in blue and pink and silver,
draws my homage.
Their shepherds are men
in bivouacs of shopping bags.
One such is sitting in a wheelchair at the
entrance to the Green Line.
I give him my scarf.
My prayer is for us all to see
the other side of winter,
in the coming of new light.

—Meg Smith

Forest Land

This place holds gravity
in skylights
and spiraling conifers
in green, blue, red,
streamlets of white.
A frame conjures
Rod Serling and
his string theory —
binding an unquiet heart.
This is the place of
children and adults
not yet whole, but
in light, at least,
in the drop crystals
of heaven’s outer clouds.

—Meg Smith

A Man Watches Snow and Disappears

It’s this, each night, when white strands
unravel, but never reach the earth; something
catches them and draws them out again.
Such as that dance at a window strewn
with red ribbons, approximating joy.
There is nothing left to frame the winter,
no fading shadow in the frost.
There is only falling in silence.

—Meg Smith

PAUL: Thank you, Meg! Believe it or not. Meg was the last poet in our first open mic tonight. I will wrap it up with a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow…

The Meeting

After so long an absence
At last we meet again:
Does the meeting give us pleasure,
Or does it give us pain?

The tree of life has been shaken,
And but few of us linger now,
Like the Prophet’s two or three berries
In the top of the uttermost bough.

We cordially greet each other
In the old, familiar tone;
And we think, though we do not say it,
How old and gray he is grown!

We speak of a Merry Christmas
And many a Happy New Year
But each in his heart is thinking
Of those that are not here.

We speak of friends and their fortunes,
And of what they did and said,
Till the dead alone seem living,
And the living alone seem dead.

And at last we hardly distinguish
Between the ghosts and the guests;
And a mist and shadow of sadness
Steals over our merriest jests.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Well, folks, I guess that is the end of our first open mic of the evening. We’ll be taking a really short intermission before we come back and I present tonight’s group Christmas poem (I’ll be skipping the presentation of the previously announced Secret Surrealist Santa Lists because no one submitted any this year). After that, we’ll begin the second virtual open mic.

Now, I, being very fond of past holiday poetry gatherings (like the wonderful Jingle Mingle that our local Worcester area poet Anne Marie Lucci hosted each year at her Streetbeat poetry venue which the Ho-Ho-etorium is meant as a tribute to) and since some of my favorite memories of these gatherings involved food (who in the Worcester poetry community could forget Anne Marie’s blonde brownies at the Jingle Mingle or my mom’s chocolate chip cookies at the Poet’s Parlor?), I was planning to replace the usual virtual vendor’s table with a virtual poet’s banquet table like we did for last year’s Ho-Ho-etorium. and asked people to contribute some imaginary food for a virtual poet’s potluck tonight. Unfortunately, since no one besides myself brought any goodies, I am afraid our poet’s banquet table is rather bare, but please feel free to grab a mug of my special hot beverage I concocted to warm us up on this chilly December night during the break before returning to your seats!

Intermission Begins

The Ho-Ho-etorium Imaginary Poet’s Potluck Banquet Table

Photo by Paul Szlosek

Dollar Store Hot Mulled Mock Cranberry Cider brought by Paul Szlosek

Perhaps not as tasty as actual spiced cider made from pure apple cider, but a lot cheaper and certainly better than a concoction fashioned from a “just add hot water” powdered mix which you would probably get if you ordered it at a coffeshop (the drops of apple cider vinegar is what gives it the “cider taste”). It will hit the spot and warm your insides on a chilly and can be thrown together in mere minutes from ingredients purchased at the Dollar Tree. An extra bonus is that it is sugar-free and perfect for diabetics and folks on the diet (if you do wish it to be sweeter, just add brown sugar to your desired level of sweetness).

64-oz. jug of Old Orchard Healthy® Balance (or equivalent brand) Cranberry Apple Juice Cocktail
One or two of apple cider vinegar (per each mug served)
Two or three lids full of Cafe’ al Fresco (or equivalent brand) Pumpkin Spice Low Carb Syrup (per each mug served)
Several shakes of powdered cloves and cinnamon or Chinese 5 spice powder

Pour as many mugs-full of Cranberry Apple juice cocktail as you wish to serve into a cooking pot, add drops of apple cider vinegar, lid-fulls of pumpkin spice syrup, and powdered cloves and cinnamon or Chinese 5 spice powder to taste. Heat on stove top (stirring until the spices are no longer floating on the surface of the liquid) to desired temperature, then pour into mugs and serve.

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Intermission Ends

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PAUL: Welcome back, everyone! I hope you are enjoying your hot spiced mock cranberry cider! Please find a seat and I’ll kick off the second half of the evening with the Christmas group poem.

As you may recall, I requested that people send in one to eight lines starting with the phrase “This Christmas… ” to be compiled into tonight’s group poem. Since only Bob Perry and Dwayne Szlosek responded, our Christmas group poem tonight will be rather brief…

This Christmas…

This Christmas, after weeks of painstaking preparation,
like all the Christmases that came before,
will be over before we know it,
Will all the trouble and stress be worth it?
Yes, perhaps not for the actual presents exchanged,
but for fond, precious memories of friends and family
that we will store forever in our minds like all
the useless unwanted holiday gifts up in our attics.

This Christmas comes with caution
Like last year, masked and distanced
Yet Love takes many forms
Sometimes it is the thing we do not give
That makes the difference.

This Christmas… it is just me and my dad on Christmas Day.
I will fix a ten-pound turkey with mashed potatoes,
carrots, and gravy. Stuffing too with broccoli.
We will eat and eat on this day, then we will eat apple pie.
But most of all I will want my father on Christmas Day.
I do not want presents, I just want my 87-year-old father on this day.
Merry Christmas to me and to my 87-year-old dad!
Oh happy day for me! I am not sad…

Thank you Bob and Dwayne for contributing!

Okay, we can now start the second open mic. I will start it off with the poem probably most associated with New Years, “Auld Lang Syne” by the 18th century Scottish poet, Robert Burns:

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp!
and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine.
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie’s a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.

—Robert Burns

PAUL: Since the Ho-Ho-etorium is a celebration of Christmas and Christmas truly is family, please welcome as our first poet in our second open mic of the evening, a dear friend of the Poetorium and my actual cousin, Dwayne Szlosek…

Dwayne Szlosek

DWAYNE: Hi everyone, I hope you all had a great Christmas! I know I had a fantastic Christmas…

Instead of the latest installment of NINE GUN BILLY saga, I want to give you two Christmas poems tonight:

Santa for a Day

Christmas is the cool time of the year.
A tree in the middle of the living room,

with lights and tinsel with glass ornaments,
that twinkle in the eyes of children.

Presents under the tree for you and family.
Can’t wait to open them on Christmas Day.

Oh, what fun it is going to be on that calendar day.
There will be lots of smiles throughout,

and around the Christmas tree.
Giggles and laughter, jumping for joy.

Right then, you’ll know you done your job
being Santa for a day…

—Dwayne Szlosek (Copyright 12\12\2021)

My Cat at Christmas

Christmas time of the year is a joyful time
when I put up a Christmas tree.
My cat climps up
to the very top of it.
He becomes the star of my tree.
Yes, he is no angel,
but he keeps me stress free.
by watching him do his dance
under the Christmas tree.
As the light blink on and off,
my cat changes colors,
to blue, to green, to red,
to orange and yellow.
How cute is that?
A camouflage cat at Christmas.
Wait until Santa sees that.
Santa may give me and my cat
extra presents because of that.
All I got to say about that
is to all of you in the audience:
“A Merry Christmas to all!
Ho, Ho, Ho…”

—Dwayne Szlosek (Copyright 12\10\2021)

PAUL: Thank you, Dwayne! Our next poet will be our good friend from Tennessee, Diane Puterbaugh…

Diane Puterbaugh

DIANE: Here is a prose piece I wrote a few years ago…

Keurig and Santa

Wednesday night I dreamt that when I pushed the handle down on the
Keurig coffee machine, a podcast would start.

This may be a divine message to stop drinking so much coffee or to start lis-
tening to more podcasts.

In 1988 I was a bank teller. One of my customers was Santa. Really. When he
walked up to my window, he gave me his business card and was proud to be
Santa at Thalhimer’s Department Store in Richmond, VA.

Santa ate breakfast at Perkins this morning. Really. I would have taken a pic
of his red Jeep in the parking lot, but was too busy telling my husband to “be
good,” because Santa would be watching.

From our booth I observed everyone who walked by Santa (he was wearing
Levi’s and a blue shirt, by the way), said “good morning” and shook his hand.
“See,” I earnestly said to Ron, “everyone wants to stay on the nice list.”

I believe in Santa.

I believe in magic cards, too, even though my husband and the guy selling
them firmly told me, “no, it’s not real magic.” I still believe.

I believe in puppies and love and happily ever after.

I believe in rainbows and dreams (maybe not the Keurig podcast one) and in
that electricity when you hold hands.

I believe in tenderness, hope and “when you wish upon a star.”

I believe in the patient, tolerant smile my husband gives me when I tell him I
believe in all this stuff. Puppies and rainbows and electricity and the Keurig-
Ron is the reason I believe, so he better be good. Santa is watching.

—Diane Puterbaugh

Thanks. I wish you all a healthy and happy Christmas season!

PAUL: Thank you, Diane! Our final poet of the evening is the host of the brand new monthly Poetry Extravaganza poetry reading series at the Root & Press Bookstore and Cafe in Worcester, Joe Fusco Jr….

Joe Fusco Jr. and Friend

JOE: The following are two traditional Holiday pieces in the Fusco household:

The King & Christmas Eve

“Elvis died on the toilet!”
My seven-year-old son announces at the dinner table
Christmas Eve.
We’re feasting on shrimp cocktail, stuffed lobster tails, and steaks with my mother and brother,
A Fusco holiday tradition we haven’t shared in
Twenty-three years.

“He was taking a dump and a man in black shot him in the head!”
My mom’s visit is quite a blessing,
She’s been hospitalized five times in ‘98.
My brother and I talk every Monday night on the phone,
But are rarely seen in the same building,
For security reasons.

“I’m not kidding everyone, that’s how Elvis really died!”
After strawberry shortcake, we relax in the living room and open presents.
My brother and I exchange novels containing explicit sex and graphic violence.
The family watches a traditional holiday video

“Took a dump and got shot. That’s how it happened!”
Mom stays the night.
My brother returns home to Webster.
My wife and I clean up fast and prepare for Christmas morning.
My son’s fast asleep with visions of sugar plums and a sweaty fat guy with long sideburns in a sequined jump suit dancing in his head.

Merry Christmas
Long live the King!

—Joe Fusco Jr.

2nd Night Worcester

We took the family to 2nd Night Worcester, the eve of New Year’s Day.
We arrived downtown around 9:00 p.m.,
Parking on Main St. was ample.
We walked over to the new improved Union Station but it was locked,
Ditto for Mechanics Hall.
We lit a candle for the six fallen firefighters in the United Congregational Church.
We bought sausage grinders from the vendor in front of Sh-Booms while waiting for the shuttle.
The night was cold but serene, a few bright stars twinkling in the dark sky.
Our children played hackie-sack on the Aud’s steps.
“What happened to the fireworks Daddy,” my nine-year-old son asked a little after midnight.
“There are no fireworks, my son,” I mused,
“Life is a series of minor disappointments. Expect nothing more.”
“We came the wrong night,” my 14-year-old daughter wisecracked,
“Daddy’s a moron.”
A little after 1:00 a.m., we walked back to our car, discovering the passenger-door jimmied.
Nothing was missing except our “Best of the Moody Blues”cassette, my wife’s favorite.
Driving down Route 9, I reflected on my forty-five odd years,
Looked forward to the new Millennium, then rear-ended a Shrewsbury police cruiser near Spag’s.
“Happy New Year, officer,” I offered after rolling down my window.
“License & registration, moron,” he replied.

—Joe Fusco Jr.

Merry Xmas!

PAUL: Thank you so much, Joe! By the way, I will be the featured poet at Joe’s Poetry Extravaganza poetry reading at the Root & Press on Thursday, December 30th. Hope to see you there!

WOW! Thank you everyone! You were just all amazing tonight. Your kindness, support, and poetry has been the best Christmas present I could ever wish for!

I am going to close out the show this evening with the same poem of mine that I ended last year’s Ho-ho-etoriim (I hope you like it). By the way, the poem is an hodgenelle, a poetry form I created inspired by one of my poetry idols, John Hodgen:

I’m Not Santa

It doesn’t mean I’m Santa just because I wear a white beard,
It seems I can’t even walk down the street without being jeered
With Ho Ho Ho’s by nasty little brats, their faces smeared
With jam. Adults even worse, drunk, voices slurred, all-teared
Up, whining I never brought them a certain doll or multi-geared
Erector set. What would they do if I turned to them and sneered
“It doesn’t mean I’m Santa just because I wear a white beard,

And don’t try to climb upon my lap – that would just be weird!”?
My facial hair is real, I’m no mall Santa with fake whiskers adhered
To my cheeks with spirit gum. It might be easier if I sheared
The whole thing off, but I won’t. I have persevered,
Endured stupid jokes about reindeer and elves, silently steered
Past taunting teens. St. Nick’s a figure, not to be mocked, but feared.
It doesn’t mean I’m Santa just because I wear a white beard,

Yet all my tormentors, one day, might find themselves speared
With sprigs of holly through their hearts, or basted and seared
Over an open flame like a Christmas goose, or simply disappeared
Down a chimney. So now that we have this matter all cleared,
Please don’t Santa me anymore! I’d much rather be King Leared,
(Or from all you poets) Walt Whitmanned or John Greenleaf Whittiered.
It doesn’t mean I’m Santa just because I wear a white beard.

–Paul (“I’m Not Santa“) Szlosek

2021, like 2020, was a difficult year for most of us, but you, my dear Poetorium friends, made it bearable for me with all your kindness, support, and poetry! So thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Hopefully we will being see you all next year (perhaps not in January because I am contemplating putting the Poetorium on hiatus for that month, so i recover from 2021, but sometime soon in 2022). As you probably know, my co-host and cohort Ron Whittle is still recovering from his recent cancer surgery, so please keep in your hearts and prayers. Please take care, stay safe and healthy, and have the most fantastic, fabulous, and amazing New Year humanly possible!

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