THE VIRTUAL POETORIUM
March 29, 2022
PAUL: Welcome everyone! I am so proud to say that tonight marks the two-year anniversary of the Virtual Poetorium. It may be difficult to believe but we first launched this virtual version way back in March of 2020 when COVID-19 first reared its ugly head, and we were forced to discontinue the live Poetorium shows. As I gaze out into the audience, I have to admit I don’t think I’ve seen the house so packed before. There are so many familiar faces including our loyal Poetorium regulars who hardly ever miss a show, as well as people who’ve not been here for a long while or just once or twice before, but I see some brand new folks here for the first time too. I’m so grateful to you all for taking time out from your busy schedules to be here to help us celebrate this special occasion. We have such a fantastic feature for you tonight, the very talented and accomplished musician, poet, and writer who I have known for many years, Tom Ewart AKA tommywart! I will be inviting Tom up to the stage in just a few moments, but before I do, I would like to officially open the March edition of the Virtual Poetorium with a poem fittingly entitled “To March” written by the one and only Belle of Amherst, Emily Dickinson:
Dear March, come in!
How glad I am!
I looked for you before.
Put down your hat —
You must have walked —
How out of breath you are!
Dear March, how are you?
And the rest?
Did you leave Nature well?
Oh, March, come right upstairs with me,
I have so much to tell!
I got your letter, and the birds’;
The maples never knew
That you were coming, — I declare,
How red their faces grew!
But, March, forgive me —
And all those hills
You left for me to hue;
There was no purple suitable,
You took it all with you.
Who knocks? That April!
Lock the door!
I will not be pursued!
He stayed away a year, to call
When I am occupied.
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come,
That blame is just as dear as praise
And praise as mere as blame.
As I said earlier, I have known tonight’s featured poet, Tom Ewart, for a long, long time. However, since I’m sure there are quite a few folks here tonight who may not be as familiar with him as I am, I’d like to let tell you all a little more about him before I call him to the stage to be interviewed…
tommywart, a phonetic spelling of how his name is usually mispronounced, is
seventy-something years old enough to know better, and generally doesn’t, which
is why he writes; how will he know what he thinks until he sees what he says?
Born and raised in the state of Virginia, he came north, eventually to go to the
Vietnam war, which he escaped mostly alive; he then remained here, largely to
escape a mindset caused in the South by our own civil war. He lives in the heart of
the Woo, overlooking the fireworks.
In his past lives, he has been a banker, a librarian, a college student personnel
administrator, a credit counselor, and a financial writer. He has had stories and
poems published in obscure little magazines, ones that paid mostly in contributor
copies, so he always kept a day job. Now he is retired and does what he pleases.
Over the years, he has been married and divorced, rinsed and repeated, through
three cycles. He finally had one daughter by natural causes, and she didn’t fall too
far from his tree. Now he lives alone and likes it that way.
His website, tommywart.com, will remind you that it’s all of him you’d ever want.
Please welcome to our virtual stage, tommywart!
Good evening, Tom! Thank you once again for agreeing to do this Please take a seat, and make yourself comfortable…
My first question for you tonight is how and when did you first begin to write poetry?
TOM: For the longest time, I felt I couldn’t write poetry because of all the structure involved, the apparent need for rhythm and rhyme, etc. that seemed necessary to do so. Then, in a conversation about this with Karen Hart, whom I respect deeply as a poet, she suggested that I forget about all that and simply write what I think and feel. It worked, so I kept at it.
PAUL: Who are some of your favorite writers and poets, and why?
TOM: My most favorite poet is Stephen Dunn, who is recently deceased. I tend to like what I call “plain-spoken” poets (since I’m not into working too hard to understand what they are saying), so I gravitate to poets like him, Sharon Olds, Carl Dennis, William Matthews, and Philip Levine.
PAUL: What do you feel is your primary motivation for writing?
TOM: E. M. Forster, the novelist, once said (and I’m probably paraphrasing here) “How will I know what I think until I see what I say?” To me, the emphasis here should be on see and say. We often think we know what we think until we are confronted with what we write. To me, writing something down is a way of getting something outside of myself, where it can then be examined to see if it makes any sense. Maybe it only makes sense to me, but that’s mainly what I’m after anyway.
PAUL: What influences your choice of subject matter?
TOM: My choice of subject matter is usually influenced by whatever I’m thinking about as a result of reading, musing, being stoned (where all sorts of unlikely connections form), that sort of thing. But lately I’ve been writing to both word and picture prompts, and that’s fun to do, because it makes me think in new ways about new topics.
PAUL: If you had to describe your writing in one word, what would that word be?
TOM: Self-exploration. (Is that two words?)
PAUL: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block, and if so, how do you overcome it?
TOM: Yeah, sometimes I suffer from writer’s block, but I usually can overcome it by just sitting down every day and trying to bull through whatever is blocking me. I think it was Stephen King who said that most of writing is simply showing up in front of the page.
PAUL: Could you tell us something about your process for writing a poem (especially how you usually begin)?
TOM: I try not to think too much about how I begin something (story, poem, whatever; in order to avoid preconceptions imposed by form, now I just call it all “stuff”) because if I do I’ll just get stuck in the thinking stage (and I do enough of that anyway) and won’t do much writing. Usually I just stumble across some abstract concept or physical detail and then try to see what I have to say about it.
PAUL: As a songwriter and a poet, how is the process of writing song lyrics both similar to and different than writing a poem?
TOM: I’m not really a songwriter. Basically, as a musician, I simply made up arrangements of works other people had composed. I have only written one entirely original song, about 10 -15 years ago, and it was an instrumental. For lack of a better title, it was called Opus #1, which at least implied there might someday be another one. So far, there hasn’t been, and I haven’t played any guitar in about a year now. I used to think that, in music, words didn’t matter; they were just appendages stuck over a melody. Now I guess I think that words, either in songs or by themselves, are mostly what matters, since they express individual nuances that theoretically can be understood by anyone who speaks the same language. So I write words now, in order to express my self (which is different than expressing myself).
PAUL: What do you feel for you is the most vital aspect of poetry (imagery, rhythm, word choice, etc.)?
TOM: I find that rhythm is one of the most important things in writing, especially poetry: it seems integral to one’s own “voice”, which seems to me to be the most important asset any artist, in whatever medium, needs to develop.
PAUL: We first met many years ago at an open mic. As an old hand at performing, what would you tell someone who would like to read at an open mic for the first time, but is feeling hesitant?
TOM: To quote the Nike slogan, “Just do it.” Most hesitancy to get up and perform at open mics has to do with an individual’s lack of self-confidence and desire to be accepted. Screw it; to paraphrase something my Dad used to say, “We all pull our pants down to sit on the toilet.” Just take a deep breath and don’t rush the performance. It also helps not to look directly at any audience member, for doing so will throw off your concentration on the task at hand. It’s one of the reasons I always wear a hat …
PAUL: Do you have a regular writing routine, and if so, can you describe it to us?
TOM: No, I really don’t have a regular routine, except to try to do something almost every day, usually sitting in a comfy chair and writing on a tablet of wide-ruled lined white paper in black ink with a fancy medium rollerball pen that has a wide barrel so I can grasp it firmly with arthritic fingers. With the exception of letters and emails, almost all of my writing starts out as handwritten, with lots of cross-outs and word substitutions, afterthoughts in the margins with insertion arrows drawn into the body of the work, all so I can see what I’ve said, left unsaid, or revised as I go along.
PAUL: What would consider to be your ideal writing environment?
TOM: The environment doesn’t seem to matter much to me; all I ask is that it be warm. I find it hard to write when my hands are shaking with the cold; otherwise, indoors or outdoors is fine with me. Public places, like coffee shops, are tough since I’m easily distracted by people-watching, etc.; I prefer a modicum of solitude and silence. My ideal is that comfy chair in my little apartment, usually with some music in the background, but only instrumental stuff, since another person’s words are obviously distracting unless they are in a language I don’t understand, or scatting, which is mostly nonverbal, and thus becomes just another instrument in the mix.
PAUL: Could you tell us about any music, poetry, or writing projects you are currently working on?
TOM: Other than stuff mostly for workshops, usually in response to some sort of prompt, I’m starting what I hope will be short prose essays in the form of letters, tentatively called Dear Mom. My mother died when I was 22 years old, so I never really got to have “adult” conversations with her about my life, which has included being in Vietnam during the war there, three marriages and divorces, a long-term romantic liaison, two children, one formally adopted and one personally procreated, and several grandchildren. In a way, I suppose it is a memoir since I realize Mom will probably not hold up her end of the correspondence at this point; it’s really a way to see what I have to say about all that.
PAUL: My final question is what advice would you give to someone who is just beginning to write poetry?
TOM: I guess I’d give the same advice as I was given by Karen: don’t worry about form; just write what you think and feel. In the process, try to see what you are saying (as opposed to making yourself say what is expected, either by yourself or others) and work toward your own voice, your own way of expressing yourself. Whatever it is, poetry or prose, that seems to me to be the key ingredient in the stew you are making. Bon appétit!
PAUL: Well, I guess that concludes the interview portion of our program. Tom, thank you so much for such thoughtful and informative answers. Now, folks, please enjoy the poetry of tommywart:
TOM: This first one is one of the first poems I had published in The Holy Cross Quarterly in the 1970’s, although the poem is probably older than that. Full disclosure: I was working at Holy Cross at the time, but I doubt they realized that…
My mind’s eye was blind at birth
and did not focus properly until I was six;
I know today who I was prior to that time
because of grandma’s stories and family albums.
I don’t remember my smallness at all.
Now I have grown at least physically tall.
My adult task of understanding becomes
harder still; I must discover the sign
that points the road back to my youth; the trick
is to retrace the path, for what it’s worth.
––tommywart (originally published in The Holy Cross Quarterly)
Sometimes a poem is inspired by an event. That was the case with this one. If
these events never happened, I wouldn’t mind; I’d just find something else to
For the Cold Storage Six
A son, a brother, a husband and father,
my old gym teacher or a nearby neighbor,
or maybe just that guy I often saw
at baseball games or in the grocery store.
You entered a homegrown Hell’s open maw,
a blaze five stories tall, a maze of rooms
that bled to other rooms, searching for
the least of us who’d started this affair,
but of course they were there no longer;
they’d gone off to hear music at the mall,
and never bothered to tell a soul.
It doesn’t matter. Son, father, spouse, our brothers,
you did what rightly makes all hearts swell
with pride: you risked your lives to save others,
even when the fire’s heat and smoke
brought you down, leaving you bereft of air
in a cork-lined kiln, on a blackened stair.
Now we mourn your loss and nurse our pain
with bunting and our bagpipes and the tears we spill.
And then, alone again, we hope you’ll serve, protect us
still, your devoted spirit a beacon in the pall,
leading us to light through a dark and empty hall.
This one first started as an insistent voice in my head, then became a character’s
voice in a story, and now here it is as a poem. I thankfully don’t hear her voice
Down on her knees, a recycled can
to the slick longneck of an ordinary Joe,
she favors a wet dream’s baby sister
and hopes she’ll one day become a star.
Second Daddy taught her these licks
as soon as her Momma turned
cold in her grave, and ever since then
she’s had it made; no longer a trade
for burgers and beer behind the bar,
now she tricks for twenty a pop, and she’s paid
up front. A friend or a neighbor or some other
stranger books her time; he shows up
with liquor and drugs, most often coke;
they have a few drinks and score a few lines,
then she drops his pants down to his knees
and gives him a wide-mouth standing O. Outside,
‘gators thrash around in the swamp, while pink
flamingos stake out the plastic ground
behind her Momma’s sagging doublewide.
There’s Mason jars of cash buried under the porch;
she’s doing all right; she’s got enough dough
to fly to L. A., to brighten the Tinseltown sky.
… Maybe the films in which she’ll appear
will turn out blue, but she doesn’t care;
she’ll go for the gusto, and when it’s all gone,
she’s still got the trailer, and her legion of fans.
While I managed to escape Vietnam mostly alive, there was this, which won first
place in one of Worcester Magazine’s poetry contests…
I find the picture of the woman
and child in his pocket,
ziplocked in a baggie, preserving it
from the damp and fetid Delta air
which swaddles us,
each and every one.
The little girl’s a Mekong peach
in a long white frilly dress.
Her raven hair flutters against
the saffron of her cherub cheeks.
Smiling a bit uncertainly,
she clutches a shopworn rosary.
Mama-san’s full of silk solemnity,
and doesn’t smile at all.
The snapshot’s of a first communion.
After pledging allegiance to my God,
mother and child stood outside
in the churchyard and were captured
for posterity by Papa-san,
one of the dead here in front of me.
Last night, I wasted him
as he rushed our boundary wire.
His chest is a mess,
his eye is blown beyond repair,
his brain’s still somewhere
out in the marsh.
Now I get to bag his body.
He’ll be trucked with his friends
way on down beyond away from here,
to a shallow ditch ‘dozed just downriver,
on the treeline edge of their napalmed ville.
I clap his hands around
this curling image of his kin,
and then I wrestle him
into a baggie, preserving them
from the damp and fetid Delta air
which swallows us,
each and every one.
—tommywart (originally published in Worcester Magazine)
Our national dysfunction over the past few years has led me to this. If it catches
on, all I can do is apologize to any kids who have to learn and recite it, because it’s
much longer than the original…
The (Updated) Pledge of Allegiance (for Modern Times)
(I must admit I often fudge when)
I pledge allegiance
(sometimes with an off-the-wall verbal divergence,
as is my right, but never with any active insurgence,)
to the flag
(be it flown at full or half mast,
or worn as a shawl on hippie chick shoulders,
or sewn on the seat of her girlfriend’s pants)
of the (often too rarely) United States of (North) America
(not to be confused by illegal immigrants
with any other “shithole country”)
and to the Republic
(both of working class stiffs and spaceshot oligarchs)
for which it stands,
one Nation, (superpowered, overweening)
(the one of our choosing, the one on our side),
(rezoned by politicians,
assuring alignment with the odds
In their coming reelections),
with (whatever currently passes for)
(as long as you play by our constantly changing rules)
(which may or may not descend swiftly on you if you don’t)
(except those we never believed
really should deserve it anyway).
And here’s another in a similar vein. All my (minimal) research was done on
Wikipedia, thus the title…
It’s always hard to write a poem
about someone you hold in distaste,
but here goes: Michael Cohen,
one-time bagman to a presidential disgrace,
was never a Boy Scout, but should have been
(after all, he was one of the President’s men).
He was trustworthy to those who weren’t,
loyal through their indiscretional whims,
helpful (he set up all the offshore accounts),
friendly with many whom could be greased,
courteous to all talkers, kind to their ears,
obedient to their nefarious schemes.
Cheerful in his dispatch of his duties,
thrifty in nondisclosure negotiations,
(brave enough to skim a little off the top?),
and so not so clean; he took the fall when it broke apart,
now he’s finally reverent, with a weekly podcast,
a mea culpa for all his grievous sins.
A friend of mine had an unsavory uncle die, and what can you say about that?
This led me to think about a record of summation, and telling the story you
want to be true, even if it wasn’t…
You might as well get used to it,
it happens to us all in the end,
which could come at any time.
So if you want to be prepared,
you should write your own ahead.
If you do, it could be your last chance
to set the record straight, to make
the claims you want to be yours;
in the absence of memory, what you say
can be taken as actual fact.
After ditching high school, he lied
about his age to enlist, then he learned
to drink, to beat his wife and kid,
to drive a truck and pave a road,
to shake his fist at the hand of God.
But in memoriam, he’ll graduate
with honors, serve his country,
raise a family, run an asphalt company,
and support a church of his choice.
It’s all the news that’s fit to print.
PAUL: That was just amazing, Tom! Thank you so very much! Everybody, let’s show our appreciation for such a fantastic feature by putting our hands together, and giving a tremendous round of applause for tommywart!
Normally we would be taking a short intermission in a few minutes before we come back with our virtual open mic, but since we have an incredible number of poets signed up to present their poetry tonight (thirteen, which I believe is a Virtual Poetorium record) we are just going to skip it and keep going or else we might be here all night.
But before we start our open mic, it’s once again time to present this month’s Poetorium group poem. This month, the group poem is appropriately Spring-themed and entitled “Just What Is This Thing Called Spring?”. In order to participate, people were asked to send us one to eight lines starting with the phrase “Spring is….”. All contributions we received were then compiled into this month’s Virtual Poetorium Group Poem. As opposed to last month when we got only two submissions, I am happy to announce that we received contributions from seven poets (besides myself) so the poem will be a bit longer this month. I want to thank Joe Fusco Jr., Tony Fusco (no relation), Dwayne Szlosek, Robert Eugene Perry, Melissa LaFontaine, Howard J Kogan, Cheryl Bonin, and Elizabeth (who didn’t leave her last name) for contributing and making the following poem possible:
Just What Is This Thing Called Spring?
Spring is butterflies and buzzing bees.
the raucous ravings
of avian angst.
Spring is Cherry Blossoms and blue skies.
Spring is the scent of bursting green blades.
Spring is the first dandelions
slow honey bees from the hive,
the fond hopes of the new year
tempered by memories of the past year.
Spring is falling in love all over again.
Spring is meeting someone new, as pretty as a spring rose.
Come dance with me, under the full moon tonight.
Come, the music is soft like the beauty I hold in my arms.
I can not look away, as I look into your eyes,
I see two people falling in love.
That’s why spring is, only for you and me to see our future
And love becomes one of the same, my true love to be.
Spring is dancing in the light sprinkle of rain.
Spring is cloud shapes transforming into ships and dragons.
Spring is a baseball hotdog and salted peanuts.
Spring is baseball…
Oiled gloves, tarred bats, chawed tobacco,
Coiffed grasses, smoothed dirt, powdered lines,
Old-timers, baby-faced rookies, renewed rivalries
Herald the coming of Spring.
Spring is the very nature of time changing speed.
Spring is effusive and too far away to be considered real
I can’t see the buds on the trees or the watering of potential
no warm breeze to feel
I do hear the birds singing but it seems like they do it in spite
I do sense the longer days and memories of my own fanciful flight
but it comes so silently I might as well not wait
or listen for the calls of geese as they break winter’s long state.
Spring is a non sequitur in Woosta!
Spring is only a rumor in New England.
Winter fades to Summer so quick
You’ll see us in shorts and winter jackets
Sandals and scarves, our cars’ back seats
Looking like a rummage sale.
Spring is now just a mere stopover on the long trek from Winter
To Summer, but back when I was a kid, it was our prime destination,
and I recall swinging on the backyard swing, and first noticing
the new buds on the branches of the once bare elms and oaks,
the daffodils and paper whites in bloom, and experiencing
the inexplicable thrill of knowing that we had finally arrived!
—The March 2022 Virtual Poetorium Group Poem
Okay, I going to kick off this extra-long open mic with a poem of my own. This is a rather new poem written in a very new poetry form created just this January by Cendrine Marrouat, a photographer and poet from Montreal. The form is called a Sepigram and is based on a “fractal” (or repetitive) pattern, the name of the form being a portmanteau of “seven” + “pi” + “-gram” (‘something written’ or ‘drawing’). The “pi” part is a reference to the number π (3.14159 rounded up to 3.1416), which is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. I know that sounds rather complicated, and it actually is. The following poem is my humble attempt at writing one:
During My Daily Constitutional Today (a Seprigram)
to the afternoon sun and the flock
of woolly clouds that crowd the sky above.
to the silver sliver of the moon
appearing so incongruously in the midst of day.
to each stray cat, all the squirrels
scurrying across lawns, clambering up oaks and maples.
to people passing by (the strangers
who returned my smile, and the one who didn’t).
Greetings and salutations to one and all!
Before I introduce our first two poets in tonight’s open mic, I probably need to mention our Monthly Virtual Poetorium Photo Poetry Prompt Project that we launched this January in which I send a batch of five photos each month to everyone on our Poetorium mass email list to hopefully inspire you to write some new poetry. Well, it just happens that our first two poets will both be presenting two very different poems they wrote based on a picture I sent out in the last batch (it’s a black & white photo that I took of my girlfriend Ariel Potter over 15 years ago).
So now that I have that awkward explanation out of the way, please give a warm welcome to the first poet in her debut appearance at the Poetorium, the recipient of the 2021 Stanley Kunitz Medal (awarded for life-long commitment to poetry and poets), Eve Rifkah:
In the photo the girl in the flowery dress looks away.
In the black and white photo
she wears a garden of roses
imagine pinks, reds, sprigs of green.
She looks to the side her hand on a thin strap
in the mirror the back of her head – wispy hair
spins out of control.
She’s tired, dressed for play that played out.
Her mother’s cross above her head
she’s lived with so long she no longer sees.
no, she wants away from all of that
away from all the don’ts in life
wants living without
catechism and hail Marys
the invisible father, son, ghost.
She wants a now that lasts forever
knows it never does
knows she needs more
to awake into a knowing
an open door
another way out.
In the black and white photo….
PAUL: Thank you so much, Eve! And now here is my cousin and long-time Poetorium regular, Dwayne Szlosek, presenting his own poem inspired by that photo as well as the latest installment in his saga of Nine Gun Billy:
SECRET AGENT GIRL
Secret agent girl, secret agent girl.
Who are you
In those clothes that you wear?
You walk in deadly silence in the dark
You lock on to your target with those
He is a Russian spy.
With one glance,
you remove his soul from his body,
and he falls in front of you.
You did your job well,
Secret agent girl,
as you walk ever so silently
in the dark,
only to meet up with your man
at a dinner party.
He is your poet,
and he is the only one you
—Dwayne Szlosek (Copyright 3\ 2\2022)
NINE GUN BILLY 9
It is the 14th of June, I am Billy Gunn.
Me and my cousin Paul have stopped
in the state of Missouri, north of Columbia.
We set up camp there. As we get the fire going,
we put the Coyote we caught onto the spit,
with some potatoes we picked up in Arkansas City.
I sit down next to the fire, thinking about
the three men we killed, and what they look like:
Charley Thompson had a husky build. Red hair.
There were three tattoos on his neck, they were three skulls.
He wore a black wool felt wide brim hat,
black vest and a white shirt with olive colored pants,
tan boots. His teeth were rotten and black.
His gun belt was tan and black,
the gun was a Colt 45, a revolver.
Mickey Slice, long brown hair.
His hat had a white narrow brim and was made of wool.
He had a tattoo of a rattlesnake on his forehead
His hat covered up the snake
(I guess he didn’t think that one through).
His shirt was green, his pants were gray and his boots black
with a white stripe running up the center .
His gun belt was dark gray.
The gun was a Navy revolver.
His hat was made of Timothy grass
with a wide brim, a dried-brown look to it.
A rusty metal band held the hat together.
His shirt and his pants were made of dried brown corn leaves.
His gun belt brown, his gun was a five – shot Paterson revolver
(36 Caliber). His boots were brown. He had no teeth.
Now it is time to true in for the night,
so we can get an early start tomorrow…
Nine Gun Billy
—Dwayne Szlosek (Copyright 3\16\2022)
PAUL: Thank you, Dwayne! Now please welcome in his second appearance at the Virtual Poetorium, Michel Duncan Merle:
The engine inherent between the stream and the design,
between paddle and poetry,
between current and discourse of the dead,
now holding each other, and
speaking the words without any
empty space between the mask
obstinate fragments of Michael Foucault
The paddles plunge into the water, sometimes in
continual action of the
absolute: eye movements, the
lungs, speech, various gestures, the
power of repetition hidden in the
repetitions, rhymes, assonance, and meta-
death and life
but the movements of the paddles are dictated by
the peerless victims of
happy popular tunes sung to decipher that
most dazzling isomorphism with the double
figures, the historical reconstructions, and
a powerful surge of electricity brought into contact
with the fragments of melodies, and
machines, the theatrical
words, the bodies of men
without a possible read-
able comic or tragic silence, revealed in a flash, and
open to view during certain telling moments of life….
And the illusion of life was
this or that little droplet,
reflection in which is another secret hidden,
which, like it, is both visible and isn’t visible and
which introduces time,
which by diving into a body of water frees limpid
skin and body like an instantaneous discharge
which in falling sounds like a mirror
reflected as in the echo of green waters
which is suspended between stream and flowing tears,
and which blossoming both symmetrical and with its coinci-
dences, its elements of chance, ready-made phrases, and its
confluences, indefinitely feeds the mechanism of the
assimilation of verses into future pearls
linked by the mirror to a chance flux of language
—Michel Duncan Merle (10/27/88)
PAUL: Thanks, Michel! Next up is a poet who is making his third appearance at the Poetorium – Sam Lalos….
I woke up with a start
And with a spring in my back
I Watched the glorious sunrise
On this my first Catholic Name-Day of 2022
Also, with a justification of Iconography
Sunday of Orthodoxy
In defense of Holy Icons
All I need is for
David Bentley Hart to pop up
And to start discussing “Norman”
The three of us unite
For the gem of Theology
—Sotirios Sam E Lalos
I’m getting a sunburn
Through my shirt
On the sun porch
At our usual haunt
Biddeford Pool, Maine
The Sisters are joyful
In expectation of the Canonization
Of soon to be Saint Anne Marie Rivier
The founder of their Order
The Sisters of the Presentation of Mary
Now it’s freezing
Whose idea was it to come to the marina”
Flustered by the wind
We saw a single boat
I wonder, who caught my lobster?
A delicious lobster-roll
As good as a lazy lobster
On a bun with lots of butter
Baked in an oven
I can’t get enough of Maine
The rain in Maine
Falls mainly in Maine
And where’s that blasted plain?
In Maine, in Maine
Ah. The Maine Diner
Even better than Brown’s
Lisa, the waitress got a super tip
All the questions and attention
Make the food taste better
In Maine, in Maine
—Sotirios Sam E Lalos
Outside my window is the sea
And a pool of Biddeford Pool
Outside my window is a tree
Despite being schooled I am still a fool
A fool for God
And the splendor of His Creations
—Sotirios Sam E Lalos
And now here is a modified non-traditional haiku…
OFF TO MAINE
—Sotirios Sam E Lalos
PAUL: Thank you, Sam. And now let’s give a rousing reception to another first-timer at the Poetorium. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and daughter and received an MA in English Literature. Her prose and poetry appeared in Sierra Poetry Festival, Trouvaille Review, New Pages, Coffee People Magazine, Black Cat Magazine, Bitchin’ Kitsch and others. Please welcome, Padmaja Battani!
PADMAJA: This poem was first published in Trouvaille Review….
Buried in a black robe
Keeping her head down
She enters the classroom
Like a dark cloud
As always sits
Next to me
Smiling with her eyes
Her hands adjust
The burka habitually
Exposing the nails
In contrast to my
Red and oval shaped
How she admires
The nails painted
Fixing her gaze
On the bright hue
At first, she is
Nervous and not
Willing to take on
The adventure –
To get her nails
‘Just keep it on
For a few hours
I’ll remove it
Before we leave’
Sitting on the
Back bench I open
My bag of treasure –
A bunch of nail colors
Cotton pads and
A bottle of polish remover
Her hands tremble
Making it difficult to
Apply the hue
‘Finished, now tell me
How they look’ I challenge
She devotes the next
Two hours staring
At her colored nails
When it is time for epilogue
I promptly wipe off
The nail paints
Leaving not a single trace
Teary eyed, she pours
A few drops of perfume
Rubbing into her
And sniffs them
To check any hidden
Scents of the polish
As traces of the hues
And her smiles
Vanish into air
—Padmaja Battani (originally published in Trouvaille Review)
PAUL: Thank you, Padmaja! And now please welcome to the stage, a long-time regular, and a past featured poet of the Virtual Poetorium, Meg Smith…
MEG: “From the Spring Window,” for St. Patrick’s Day, is in memory of my beloved Uncle Neillius O’Neill, educator and community leader in Glanworth, Co. Cork, Ireland, who passed away earlier this month. The poem reflects the view of the village and house, from the overlook of Roch Castle:
From the Spring Window
In memory of Neilius O’Neill
I am looking from Roche Castle
to the Close.
Everything is gathered at that house.
All memory, all flowers, all of a
song of a tribe of noise.
Never let it be said that we
walked softly or whispered
in the night air, but always held a hand
in the darkness, with a shout.
Through this final veil, a black cat waits,
and lights will burn in a circle,
a bonfire where our ancestors join
a hymn about football, golf, and
the blessing of good, green grass.
“Kerouac’s Birds” is inspired by the Lowell Mass. celebrations for Jack Kerouac’s 100th birthday, March 12, 2022. Participating in a poetry reading, I realized how prominently birds played a part especially in Kerouac’s haikus — and what they mean now in a time of crisis:
In every haiku,
the rustle of wings
wakes the loneliness
of a desolate mountain.
Nothing much has changed,
but the fires
grow hotter, deeper,
and the songs, more than
warnings to take flight.
It bears little to plead
with poets of the past,
but I will tell you:
When I came home,
to our house in Lowell,
The bare lilac tree of March
in the alley was foreclosed
by two mourning doves,
a bivouac in a late winter storm.
“Tomb of the Crocodiles” is a memory poem from my first visit to Egypt, in March 2006. Sobek is the crocodile god of the ancient Egyptian pantheon, and we visited his temple, where mummified crocodiles are kept. The great animal mortuary care of Pharaonic times is always very emotional for me:
Tomb of the Crocodiles
Kom Ombo, Aswan, Egypt. March 2006.
The reign of Sobek and his wives
never ends; they glide, golden-eyed,
along the gray cataracts.
When their children sleep
the long sleep, we, their attendants,
bind them in ointments and sheets, and
our prayer messages — to take with them.
Once, they, and we, stepped
with silence in the dry grasses, and
slipped into the sun’s copper.
All Heaven is quiet, gentle in claws,
and teeth, and smiling prayer.
PAUL: Thank you, Meg! Next up is a loyal attendee of the Virtual Poetorium, as well as one of our past featured poets, Howard Kogan…
HOWARD: Here is my poem for tonight. It was previously published in a chapbook, General Store Poems, which is currently out of print…
After Old Jack had shown me how to trap the raccoons
that were killing our chickens – with #2 legholds
and canned sardines – I went by his place to tell him
I’d gotten six setting the traps, like he said, at first dark
then going out at first light to shoot them with a .22.
What did you do with them raccoons?
I told him I’d buried them.
I wish you hadn’t done that, my grandson Hanley
could’ve skinned them, he needs the practice.
I told him if I get more, I’ll remember Hanley.
A friend of Old Jack came walking out of the woods
behind his place but hesitated when he saw me.
Jack noticed; told him he should come sit down
nodded toward me, He’s okay, introduced us,
and with a wink at me, added, He’s a trapper!
Euey seemed duly impressed and it fell to me
to explain what I’d trapped, how Jack had helped.
We sat looking at each other a moment,
I said, I needed to do something about the chickens,
but to be honest, I hated everything about it.
I felt like hell every time I had to shot a raccoon.
I expected them to smile at my tender feelings,
but they nodded and Euey started talking about
his putting old Molly down a few days ago
when she got so poorly, she could barely walk.
We sat there a moment in silence and Jack said,
Molly was a damn smart dog, if she got on a scent,
whatever she was tracking was getting treed.
She was a genuine Plott hound,
there’s not many of them around here.
Talk of Molly got Jack and Euey talking about dogs,
hunting with them, remembering old favorites,
gone now. Tears leaked from wet eyes,
got brushed away like flies, without comment.
These were hard men who never had much.
They wouldn’t pay a vet to put a dog down, but it
wasn’t the money, it was a matter of whose dog it was.
It was your dog, so it was your job. It’s that simple.
You get attached to dogs, they’re part of the family,
sometimes the best part.
No one likes to kill anything,
but there comes a time when it needs doing,
and you do it.
—Howard J Kogan from General Store Poems
PAUL: Thanks, Howard! Now please welcome Worcester-area poet, humorist, and host of the Poetry Extravaganza reading series, Joe Fusco…
JOE: My Mom passed away in March 2017…
Thoughts on My Mother’s Demise
1) I saw my Mom almost every day at the Nursing Home.
When I went on vacation with the family or went away on business trips,
I would implore her to “Please don’t die. It would be very inconvenient for me right now.”
“Okay,” she would always reply.
My Mom passed away last Thursday around 9am.
I had just arrived at the office after an annual visit to my hip-replacement doctor when the Hospice nurse called with the sad news.
My family and I gathered at her bedside by 10am and said our goodbyes.
Mom’s wake was Sunday night, the funeral and burial services were Monday, and a snowstorm Tuesday morning gave us all an extra day to catch our breaths.
Very convenient, Mom. Thanks.
2) As her appetite waned, my Mom preferred cold cereal for breakfast at the Nursing Home.
The morning of her demise, they wheeled her into the cafeteria and put hot oatmeal in her bowl.
After five minutes or so, one of the aides noticed my Mom hadn’t touched her breakfast and appeared to be napping.
“You don’t like your oatmeal, Olympia,” she inquired.
Apparently not. Mom, like Elvis, had left the building.
3) The day before my Mother’s demise, my 26-year-old son and I visited with her in the solarium right before the Wednesday afternoon entertainment.
“It’s usually a guitarist or keyboard player doing old-time standards,” I informed my son.
In walked a very old but very well -preserved Belly Dancer.
Her skin was smooth and alabaster. Her hair a golden hue. Her costume accentuated her bountiful cleavage with dark blue veins traveling the landscape like the Danube.
My son and I stared in amazement, eyes popping out like cartoon characters.
“You boys staying for the lesson,” the Belly Dancer inquired as she clicked her castanets.
“Ah…no” I stammered and we kissed my Mom goodbye. It was the last time we saw her alive. Should have stayed for that damn lesson!
4) My Mom had 114 people at her wake. If I had a dime for every person who said Limpy looked great, I’d have 90 cents.
My daughters and future daughter-in-law created two remarkable collages and a video that captured precious moments in my Mom’s life. Included were her pinup photos from 1945 when she was a model and the boys overseas were sent her pictures.
“She was quite the Hot Tamale,” my best friend’s Dad told him years later.
My son and three sons-in-law were pallbearers at my Mom’s funeral. I gave the eulogy like I did for my brother and my Dad. I told the 47 people in the church that Limpy or Blimpo as I affectionately called her was, more than anything else, a very nice person.
And in today’s world that is a very rare commodity.
—Joe Fusco Jr.
PAUL: Great job as always, Joe! Okay, once again we have another poet participating in the Poetorium for the very first time. Please welcome the Poet Laureate of West Haven, Connecticut (and no relation to Joe, as far as I know) – Tony Fusco!
TONY: Here are three poems…
America Locked Down 2020
We are in an Abrams tank stuck in a ditch
We are Uncle Sam who wants you to be all that
one could be. We are securely our own prisoners
We are an armadillo rolling across the highway.
We are an ammunition box waiting to be opened.
We are ringing the doorbell of a trap door spider.
We are the leftover people wrapped in tin foil.
a footprint of dust in the King’s pyramid
We are a romantic people locked in a dungeon
of love stories. We lay in a rose-colored casket,
in the back of the showroom
We are a poultry people encased in hard shells
We are worker bees in our hive with a dead queen.
We are a dime a dozen people in plaster piggy banks
We are lifers hoping for a prison break
We are the mesmerized in the thrall
of dark enchantments, fictions and fantasy
We are the disenfranchised on election night
we are the hung-up chads.
We are lobsters ready for a hot baptism
an unholy people enshrined in our beliefs
We are stuck to the flypaper with a life span of one day
We are behind the padlock and bolt
We are an agnostic people, praying to no one.
an anesthetized people, numb
13 Blackbirds Talk Back to Wallace Stevens
Preferring to be alone
we gather in wintertime
to protect ourselves in numbers
You must have noticed
scavengers in parking lots
perched on the arms of lights
Don’t be so high and mighty
we were once omens for gods
only recently descended in importance
Noah sent me first
and finding land, I stayed.
The fate of humankind not my concern
Think yourself special?
Speech? We too can speak
We too use tools. Such pride!
Wallace Stevens I know you
We remember faces
nor do we forget enemies.
We sit in the trees of other worlds
half between the sky and the earth
dust that you are made of
We use the ground as our toilet
write in the mud with our claws
literature with beaks in clouds
Put that poem in your notebook
I sit on the shoulder of the almighty
aged half-blind god
I seek out heroes.
Have not found one yet Wallace,
all their deeds exaggerated
Even Eliot’s hanged man
no more than mortal
bury him with your pride
Shame your business guesses
the length of a man’s life
and profits from it
Spare us your meddling
Your non-shiny words
hold no interest to us
I Too Am Waiting
Bottom of the ninth and two out,
the forlorn hope waiting for the
next shoe to drop, for the meek
to inherit that last two-dollar
On the hospice doorstep
at three in the morning tilting at
giants, hoping for windfalls,
the experimental treatments,
the blood transfusions,
a magic silver bullet,
the farthest bed from the door.
The only one with a view.
Kneeling alone in the hollow
church, searching the bathroom
floor for lost pills. Self-hypnosis,
some spicy Plumpy’nut some
laudanum of the soul, water
from Lourdes, that ship coming
in, the Make A Wish Foundation.
Waiting for the call from the
Governor in the mountains of
madness, head in the gas oven,
suicide by policeman.
I am waiting for the hospice
one-man-band troubadour to
signal the finale
to smack together the cymbals
between his knees, and
apologize that there is no hell.
PAUL: Thank you so much, Tony. And now please welcome back after a long absence from the Virtual PoetoriumPoetorium, someone very dear to my heart, the Secret Agent Girl herself, Ariel Potter…
Today there was a storm.
Rain splashed down like psalms murmured,
Droplets, round and reflective,
Lying in layers on slices of leaves.
Just as quickly, it ended.
The lawn, now fresh and wet,
A new painting just finished.
PAUL: Thank you, Ariel! Now please welcome another poet visiting the Virtual Poetorium for the first time. Trekking in all the way from Southport, North Carolina, please welcome Ami Offenbacher-Ferris (known to her close friends and relatives as Gypsie)…
The woodpecker taps
Spring is come again
along the flowing
streams of melted snow
Fun has just begun
for one and for all
crowed the big black crow
tiny little red
tailed woodpecker as
warm air tickled his
feathers and soothed his
poor sore aching beak
—(Gypsie) Ami Offenbacher-Ferris
PAUL: Thank you, Ami! Next up is our featured poet from last month, Robert Eugene Perry…
BOB: Hello Poetorium! Here are some new poems written in the last couple months for your enjoyment:
Fare Thee Well, February
ice heart melting leaves
sickly yellow boot prints
rain to sleet to snow running
rivulets of cold discharge.
no hint of sun to come, only more
squirrel stares dumbstruck at
barren tree, daydreaming
about something other than
—Robert Eugene Perry
Less seen, seen less
Shadows creep, sleep forms
Fox stirs, barn own calls
Crepuscular, one and all
In between, lesser known
Clouds lengthen, dusk descends
Ducks squawk, river rolls
Gathering the gloaming in
Breathe deep, drop down
Time shifts, space bends
Ancestors all around
Slow down, the veil is thin.
—Robert Eugene Perry
Going within, observing
My own dissatisfaction, yours
Becomes distinct and personal – impersonally
Distributed by the universe. And
The only logical response
To such unremitting
—Robert Eugene Perry
PAUL: Thanks so much, Bob! And now last but not least in tonight’s virtual open mic is a talented poet and blogger who made her Poetorium debut last month – Melissa LaFontaine…
The Angel’s Code
Where are the hollow reeds of a wing that follows above the breeze
Where are the three forms of eternity that forego the need for sympathy
there is no sympathy, no lie, no hope
there is only the jolt of awakening before you get the joke
You take the joke and make it something it could never be, a jeer at your expense
When all it could ever really be was a game of peek a boo with the realms of foreverness
PAUL: Thank you, Melissa!
Well that concludes tonight’s open mic. I want to thank everyone who read tonight including our feature tommywart! I would like to close out tonight’s show with a poem of mine that has a very special place in my heart. It involves a tradition that Ron Whittle originally started in the first few live shows, but later discontinued. Ron would write a brand new poem specifically created to say goodbye and close out each show. Last May for our first anniversary of the live Poetorium, I revived the tradition and composed a poem specifically to close out that month’s Virtual Poetorium. Now it being me, of course, it had to be a form poem. It was a sestina, but not an ordinary one, but an obscure variant created by the brilliant poet Miller Williams called “The Shrinking Sestina”. Like a regular sestina, each stanza used the same set of six end words in a different order, but the lines in each succeeding stanza got shorter and shorter until in the sixth stanza, each line was composed of only one word apiece. So here is that poem once again, a shrinking sestina called “The Incredible Shrinking Not-Wanting-to-Say Farewell Sestina”, and I sincerely hope you enjoy it…
THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING NOT-WANTING-TO-SAY FAREWELL SESTINA
It may seem like it will be many years, but we’ll congregate again soon,
try to squeeze in all the precious things we miss within a single hour,
while knowing this meeting of mutual hearts and minds will pass too.
Perhaps there is for gods, but for us, there’s no permanence to time.
In this finite universe, every scenario, every possibility ends.
That is the ultimate truth we all must eventually discover together.
So it’s only natural we seek the comfort of being together,
though that comfort is fleeting, passing too soon.
It’s a certainty that almost everything ends,
but the choice of the way we face that certainty is ours.
Every decision we consider is bound by the construct of time,
yet all actions we do not take are constricted by it too.
I suspect this may be happening to you too –
my favorite memories are of when we’re all together,
but those memories are slowly fading with time.
Perhaps they’ll all be gone fairly soon,
so I hope this meeting will not be our
last. I feel so depleted when they end.
Our connection never ends.
There ‘s something that binds us to
one another that goes on for hours,
days, years. Apart, we’re still together,
knowing we’ll meet in person soon –
it’s just a simple matter of time.
Since moments in time
tend to end
so damn soon,
we should try to
in the final hour.
And as this poem ends, so does this conversation too.
But don’t fear, we’ll soon meet again for another hour
or so, perhaps at a different time or place, yet we’ll be together.
—Paul Szlosek (05/25/2021)
Well, good night everyone! Hope that you enjoyed tonight’s Second Anniversary edition of the Virtual Poetorium, and we will see you all back here again in April when our featured poet will be our long-time friend of the Poetorium, Karen Warinsky!