Virtual Poetorium (October 27, 2020)

THE VIRTUAL POETORIUM October 27, 2020

Ron Whittle

RON: Okay everyone lets find a seat, we’ve got an impressive show tonight and we need to get it going. I‘m Ron Whittle, Co-host of the Poetorium along with my partner in crime or should I say in poetry Paul Szlosek. We have another great lineup of poets and one terrific guest speaker namely Meg Smith. It’s getting pretty spooky outside and weird things are happening. Well that’s in my neighborhood but that’s year-round and I think I’m at the center of it. At any rate, let’s keep the show moving. With the advent of an up and coming election, we request that any and all political poems or remarks be kept out of the Poetorium as a matter of decorum. Thank you in advance for respecting the shows wishes.

I think everyone knows what rules we do have in place for the show so I won’t go over them again. First off we have to thank Demetri Kasperson for the use of his stage. Ann Marie for her black and white brownies there to die for. For the Starlite staff of thousands who help produce the program from lights to drinks. And to my bud who puts this whole show together Paul, let’s give him a hand its lot of hard work to do what he is doing. Paul, stand up and take a bow.…

IT’S SHOW TIME!

I will start the show off as I usually do with a poem but first a little lunacy from yours truly. Wait, I forgot to put my mask on. Okay I’m ready…

Halloween (Saturday, October 31, 2020)

On Halloween, the Ice Cream Store
changed its name for the day to the…

ICESCREAMATORIUM.

—Ron Whittle

Halloween 2020

The end of Autumn howls
in the dark of the night
When shadows take flight
to wrap themselves around
tombstones, trees and such
A time for the dead
to reappear
as ghostly mortals
to haunt the imaginations
of whose who challenge
the night
near the old town cemetery
Lights flicker
wind chimes ring out a scary tune
and a fog appears
out of nowhere
An erie sight to see
as caskets lay opened
behind the vail of night
Creaking gates
Tomcats screech
and church bells
ring out a warning
at every step taken
beware the ghouls behind you
and the specters in front of you
As doorbells ring
and door knockers rap
Fear what is on
the other side of that door
as treaters descend onto
sidewalks full of tricksters
in full regalia
planning to trick you
into giving them sweets
in exchange
for safe passage into the night

—Ron Whittle

Thank you! Thank you!

And now I turn the mic over to the magician who puts endless hours into the production more commonly known as the Poetorium.

Alright, Paul, show us some of your magic…

PAUL: Thank you, Ron! Well, folks, we have a real jam-packed show for you tonight with a Halloween-themed group poem, a presentation of some terrific six word stories from this month’s Poetorium Writing Challenge, along with an amazing feature planned by Meg Smith (which Ron previously mentioned), but now it’s time for a relatively new segment which we call the Mystery Poet Spotlight. The way it works is that I will present you the audience with several clues and biographical details about an unidentified poet before I reveal their identity and present a couple of their poems. That’s it. Okay, all set to guess who tonight’s Mystery Poet is? Great! Tonight I guarantee it will be pretty easy…

Your first clue is that although this poet is primarily associated with rural life in New England, he was born in the big city of San Francisco, California in 1874. After his father’s death in 1885, his family moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts and he continued to live in an urban envirament until his early twenties. Graduating high school, he tried enrolling in college twice, once at Dartmouth College, and later at Harvard University, but dropping out both times. He taught school, delivered newspapers, and did factory work until he moved with his new bride to a farm purchased by his late grandfather in Derry, New Hampshire where he struggled as a farmer for nine years while also writing poetry early in the mornings and creating many of the poems that would later become his best-known. Failing at farming, he returned to teaching as an English teacher at Pinkerton Academy, then later at the New Hampshire Normal School in Plymouth, New Hampshire. In 1912, he migrated with his family to England, where he published his first volume of poetry A Boy’s Will, and became friends with several British poets including Edward Thomas, T. E. Hulme, and Ezra Pound. About a year after he published his second poetry book, North of Boston, he returned to the United States, bought a farm in Franconia, New Hampshire,and began to achieve fame as a poet, teacher, and lecturer.

Tonight’s Mystery Poet is the only poet in history to win four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry, first in 1924 for his book New Hampshire: A Poem with Notes and Grace Notes, then for Collected Poems in 1931, A Further Range in 1937, and finally A Witness Tree in 1943. He was also the very first inaugural poet in the U.S., reading at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in 1961. Here’s a bit of trivia that most people don’t know: he originally intended to read his poem “Dedication” which he wrote specifically to honor the occasion, but the sunlight was so bright he was unable to read it, so he had to improvise and recite an older poem “The Gift Outright” from memory instead.

Okay, I’m sure I don’t need to go on. By now, you must have realized that tonight’s Mystery Poet is none other than Robert Frost, probably the most famous American poet of the last century.

Robert Frost

You may be wondering why did I choose Frost to be tonight’s Mystery Poet, and believe it or not, it was because I was looking for a poet who wrote poems appropiate for the Halloween season. Now I know he is definitely not the first poet most people would associate with the holiday (Either Edgar Allen Poe or H.P. Lovecraft would more likely come to mind), but I believe he has at least two poems that are perfectly suited for tonight’s occasion. The first one seems to have made the majority of the top ten lists on the internet for classic poems spooky enough to be read during Halloween. Although not one of Frost’s most famous poems, it’s title definately fits the theme:

Ghost House

I dwell in a lonely house I know
That vanished many a summer ago,
And left no trace but the cellar walls,
And a cellar in which the daylight falls
And the purple-stemmed wild raspberries grow.

O’er ruined fences the grape-vines shield
The woods come back to the mowing field;
The orchard tree has grown one copse
Of new wood and old where the woodpecker chops;
The footpath down to the well is healed.

I dwell with a strangely aching heart
In that vanished abode there far apart
On that disused and forgotten road
That has no dust-bath now for the toad.
Night comes; the black bats tumble and dart;

The whippoorwill is coming to shout
And hush and cluck and flutter about:
I hear him begin far enough away
Full many a time to say his say
Before he arrives to say it out.

It is under the small, dim, summer star.
I know not who these mute folk are
Who share the unlit place with me—
Those stones out under the low-limbed tree
Doubtless bear names that the mosses mar.

They are tireless folk, but slow and sad—
Though two, close-keeping, are lass and lad,—
With none among them that ever sings,
And yet, in view of how many things,
As sweet companions as might be had.

—Robert Frost

This second poem is certainly my favorite, and with its cast of witches, ghosts, and walking skeletons, I feel it may just be the perfect poem to be read out loud on Halloween night. In fact, when I hosted my other poetry reading The Poet’s Parlor years ago,, its annual recital there became an honored Halloween tradition…

The Witch of Coos

I staid the night for shelter at a farm
Behind the mountains, with a mother and son,
Two old-believers. They did all the talking.

MOTHER: Folks think a witch who has familiar spirits
She could call up to pass a winter evening,
But won’t, should be burned at the stake or something.
Summoning spirits isn’t ‘Button, button,
Who’s got the button,’ I would have them know.

SON: Mother can make a common table rear
And kick with two legs like an army mule.

MOTHER: And when I’ve done it, what good have I
done? Rather than tip a table for you, let me
Tell you what Ralle the Sioux Control once told me.
He said the dead had souls, but when I asked him
How could that be – I thought the dead were souls,
He broke my trance. Don’t that make you suspicious
That there’s something the dead are keeping back?
Yes, there’s something the dead are keeping back.

SON: You wouldn’t want to tell him what we have
Up attic, mother?

MOTHER: Bones – a skeleton.

SON: But the headboard of mother’s bed is pushed
Against the’ attic door: the door is nailed.
It’s harmless. Mother hears it in the night
Halting perplexed behind the barrier
Of door and headboard. Where it wants to get
Is back into the cellar where it came from.

MOTHER: We’ll never let them, will we, son! We’ll never!

SON: It left the cellar forty years ago
And carried itself like a pile of dishes
Up one flight from the cellar to the kitchen,
Another from the kitchen to the bedroom,
Another from the bedroom to the attic,
Right past both father and mother, and neither stopped it.
Father had gone upstairs; mother was downstairs.
I was a baby: I don’t know where I was.

MOTHER: The only fault my husband found with me –
I went to sleep before I went to bed,
Especially in winter when the bed
Might just as well be ice and the clothes snow.
The night the bones came up the cellar-stairs
Toffile had gone to bed alone and left me,
But left an open door to cool the room off
So as to sort of turn me out of it.
I was just coming to myself enough
To wonder where the cold was coming from,
When I heard Toffile upstairs in the bedroom
And thought I heard him downstairs in the cellar.
The board we had laid down to walk dry-shod on
When there was water in the cellar in spring
Struck the hard cellar bottom. And then someone
Began the stairs, two footsteps for each step,
The way a man with one leg and a crutch,
Or a little child, comes up. It wasn’t Toffile:
It wasn’t anyone who could be there.
The bulkhead double-doors were double-locked
And swollen tight and buried under snow.
The cellar windows were banked up with sawdust
And swollen tight and buried under snow.
It was the bones. I knew them – and good reason.
My first impulse was to get to the knob
And hold the door. But the bones didn’t try
The door; they halted helpless on the landing,
Waiting for things to happen in their favour.’
The faintest restless rustling ran all through them.
I never could have done the thing I did
If the wish hadn’t been too strong in me
To see how they were mounted for this walk.
I had a vision of them put together
Not like a man, but like a chandelier.
So suddenly I flung the door wide on him.
A moment he stood balancing with emotion,
And all but lost himself. (A tongue of fire
Flashed out and licked along his upper teeth.
Smoke rolled inside the sockets of his eyes.)
Then he came at me with one hand outstretched,
The way he did in life once; but this time
I struck the hand off brittle on the floor,
And fell back from him on the floor myself.
The finger-pieces slid in all directions.
(Where did I see one of those pieces lately?
Hand me my button-box- it must be there.)
I sat up on the floor and shouted, ‘Toffile,
It’s coming up to you.’ It had its choice
Of the door to the cellar or the hall.
It took the hall door for the novelty,
And set off briskly for so slow a thing,
Stillgoing every which way in the joints, though,
So that it looked like lightning or a scribble
From the slap I had just now given its hand.
I listened till it almost climbed the stairs
From the hall to the only finished bedroom,
Before I got up to do anything;
Then ran and shouted, ‘Shut the bedroom door,
Toffile, for my sake!’ ‘Company?’ he said,
‘Don’t make me get up; I’m too warm in bed.’
So lying forward weakly on the handrail
I pushed myself upstairs, and in the light
(The kitchen had been dark) I had to own
I could see nothing. ‘Toffile, I don’t see it.
It’s with us in the room though. It’s the bones.’
‘What bones?’ ‘The cellar bones- out of the grave.’
That made him throw his bare legs out of bed
And sit up by me and take hold of me.
I wanted to put out the light and see
If I could see it, or else mow the room,
With our arms at the level of our knees,
And bring the chalk-pile down. ‘I’ll tell you what-
It’s looking for another door to try.
The uncommonly deep snow has made him think
Of his old song, The Wild Colonial Boy,
He always used to sing along the tote-road.
He’s after an open door to get out-doors.
Let’s trap him with an open door up attic.’
Toffile agreed to that, and sure enough,
Almost the moment he was given an opening,
The steps began to climb the attic stairs.
I heard them. Toffile didn’t seem to hear them.
‘Quick !’ I slammed to the door and held the knob.
‘Toffile, get nails.’ I made him nail the door shut,
And push the headboard of the bed against it.
Then we asked was there anything
Up attic that we’d ever want again.
The attic was less to us than the cellar.
If the bones liked the attic, let them have it.
Let them stay in the attic. When they sometimes
Come down the stairs at night and stand perplexed
Behind the door and headboard of the bed,
Brushing their chalky skull with chalky fingers,
With sounds like the dry rattling of a shutter,
That’s what I sit up in the dark to say-
To no one any more since Toffile died.
Let them stay in the attic since they went there.
I promised Toffile to be cruel to them
For helping them be cruel once to him.

SON: We think they had a grave down in the cellar.

MOTHER: We know they had a grave down in the cellar.

SON: We never could find out whose bones they were.

MOTHER: Yes, we could too, son. Tell the truth for once.
They were a man’s his father killed for me.
I mean a man he killed instead of me.
The least I could do was to help dig their grave.
We were about it one night in the cellar.
Son knows the story: but ’twas not for him
To tell the truth, suppose the time had come.
Son looks surprised to see me end a lie
We’d kept all these years between ourselves
So as to have it ready for outsiders.
But to-night I don’t care enough to lie-
I don’t remember why I ever cared.
Toffile, if he were here, I don’t believe
Could tell you why he ever cared himself-

She hadn’t found the finger-bone she wanted
Among the buttons poured out in her lap.
I verified the name next morning: Toffile.
The rural letter-box said Toffile Lajway.

—Robert Frost

The third and final poem that I wish to share with you tonight as part of the Mystery Poet Spotlight is one which Frost is not the author, but the subject. The poem, which I myself wrote in his honor, is a beau présent, a French poetry form interestingly invented by an American writer, Harry Matthews. In case you are not familiar with the form, it is best described as a short poem written as a gift or affectionate tribute to another person using only the letters available in that person’s name. Here is my humble effort (I hope you enjoy it):

A Beau Présent For Robert Lee Frost

O Br’er Robert, Frere Frost,
Let’s be footloose, be free.

Let’s rebel! Let’s loot stores-
Rob sellers of stereos or

Boost bottles of root beer.
Let’s flee streets bereft of trees

To stroll soft forest floors,
Offer steel toe boots to footsore settlers.

Let’s be referees for slobs, feeble fools,
Restore teeter totters, obsolete robots.

Let’s be better – be sober,
Be effortless, be Robert Lee Frost…

—Paul Szlosek

Well, that concludes tonight’s Mystery Poet Spotlight.

Now I am thrilled to introduce the incredibly talented Meg Smith as our featured poet tonight at our special Halloween-themed edition of the Virtual Poetorium. But before we bring her up to the virtual stage to be interviewed, I’d like to let you know a little more about Meg…

Meg Smith (Photo Courtesy of Derek Savoia)

Meg Smith is a writer, journalist, dancer and events producer living in Lowell, Massachusetts. Her publication credits for poetry and fiction include many horror, science fiction, and speculative publications.She is the author of five poetry books, and a short fiction collection, The Plague Confessor, which published this fall. She served on the board of Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!, a festival dedicated to Lowell-born author Jack Kerouac, from 1995 to 2009. Meg produces the Edgar Allan Poe Show, honoring Poe’s presence in Lowell, and welcomes visits to megsmithwriter.com, on Facebook, and Twitter.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please put your hands together and give a big Virtual Poetorium welcome to Meg Smith!

RON: Good evening, Meg. Welcome to the Poetorium stage! Please take a seat and make yourself comfortable before we start interrogating, umm, I mean interviewing you. Seriously, thank you so much for agreeing to be this month’s featured poet! Paul and I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. Having read your bio and some of your work, it seems to me that you have a very busy schedule. Would you tell us what a day in the life of Meg Smith is like?

MEG: First of all, thank you for this great opportunity. My life is sometimes frenetic and always exciting, but I treasure my moments of calm, too. I begin most weekdays checking the latest news headlines, and heading to our local Dunkin’ Donuts of the Starbuck’s in Target. If Target, lately, I like to stop and admire the Halloween displays.

I am a news editor and multimedia journalist, so I spend much of the day writing news stories on deadline and updating our websites and social media. In the afternoon I usually hit the gym, before family and dinner time, and in the evenings, working on my writing and correspondence.

This time of year, I like to make time for a brief walk through some of the great conservation trails in our area. With the autumn leaves, it’s quite magical.

RON: I’m sure we would all like to know who are your biggest influences in the poetry world?

MEG: There are so many amazing poets who to me are great reading, as well as teachers. William Butler Yeats speaks to me about my Irish heritage. My mother is from Ireland, and my dad is from Charlestown, so I grew up immersed in these cultures.

I am influenced by Octavio Paz and Pablo Neruda, who I try to read both in Spanish as well as English-language translations; Emily Dickinson, Linda Hogan, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ann Sexton, classical poets such as Sappho. There are anthologies that have greatly influenced me, such as That’s What She Said, an anthology of Native American female poets.

RON: Did you go to school to learn how to write poetry, a MFA program perhaps?

MEG: I have a bachelor’s degree in English, with a concentration in journalism, but I have been writing all my life. I keep working, reading, learning, striving toward perfection. I consider myself a lifelong learner.

RON: Could you tell us a bit about your dancing, and if there is a relationship between it and your poetry?

MEG: I have been performing and studying Oriental dance for 25 years. My stage name is Morgana Mirage. For many years I was a reporter and columnist for Jareeda, a magazine of Middle Eastern dance, and associate editor of Belly Dance New England.

Early on I wanted to bring dance and poetry together. In 1998, my late husband, Lawrence Carradini and I created “Dance of the Beloved,” with poems by Rumi, and ancient and contemporary love poetry. We performed it in many places in the northeast.

Flyer for the debut of Dance of the Beloved, The Poets Theatre, Club Passim, Cambridge, MA., June 21, 1998

We were also on the board of Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!, a festival honoring Kerouac in his hometown, Lowell, Mass., where I live. We created the event, Kerouac’s Greek Connections, for which I danced. For many years, Kerouac’s friend, the jazz legend David Amram and I, have performed together during the festival and at other events.

Performing with the David Amram Ensemble during the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! Festival, Whistler House Museum of Art, Lowell, Mass. Oct. 7, 2000 (Photo Courtesy of Phil Chaput)

Over the years I produced several events bringing literature and dance together, including “Brides of Frankenstein,” “The Bela Lugosi Birthday Bash” and “The Edgar Allan Poe Show,” which celebrates Poe’s visits to Lowell.

Performing original choreography, “Restless Dreams,” to Disturbed’s version of “Sounds of Silence.” Troupe Eve presents Danse Macabre, New Players Theatre Guild, Fitchburg, MA. Nov. 19, 2016 (Photo Courtesy of Adam Duclos)

The covers of my recent poetry books, and of my short fiction book, The Plague Confessor, all feature photos of me in dance performance, or as part of a dance meditation series.

RON: If someone was just beginning to write, what advice would you give them?

MEG: I don’t know that I could presume to give advice on writing, except to be persistent, be willing to work hard, read a variety of authors, and never give up.

Reading poetry aloud can be helpful. I’ve attended as well as featured at many poetry readings.

A poet reading aloud has asked an audience to give of their time and attention. Presenting something well-written and organized is the poet’s end of that covenant.

Some readers find practicing with trusted friends and family to be helpful.

RON: How would you describe the kind of poetry you write?

MEG: I write about outer space, and inner space. I draw from experiences that have touched me in my life, including people, and places.

The cosmos, and a sense of discovery of the universe, inspire me. I am an advocate of science and scientists, and I am inspired by this never-ending search for the truth of our cosmos and ourselves.

Nature and the supernatural inspire me. Inspiration can come from almost anywhere — a crowded city street in another country, or a quiet woodlands walk.
Loss and intimacy inspire me, and my Irish-American heritage speaks to me deeply as well.

When it comes to writing horror, gothic, or other genres of poetry, I think the great challenge is to create something unique and fresh — and still stay within the parameters of the genre.

RON: In your bio, it says you are an events producer. Could you explain to us exactly what that is?

MEG: In addition to the events I mentioned above, I’ve been producing various events since the early 1990s.

As a Middle Eastern dancer, I have produced and participated in many dance events. From 1992 to 1996 I published The Banshee, a ‘zine in Lowell, and on behalf of The Banshee I produced a lot of coffee house-style events, concerts for local rock bands, poetry readings, and more. I would be the person to create the event format, scout a location, recruit performers and get out the publicity.

You’re pretty much responsible for making the event happen. In my work as a journalist, I’ve also produced a number of candidates’ forums for mayoral, selectmen, and Legislature races.

RON:How much fun is it traveling around reading to people you do not know? I know I always try to read the crowd before I perform, so I can pick out which of my work most suits a particular crowd. Is that something that you do as well?

MEG: It’s always fun and exciting to be able to share my writing with an audience. Reading a written piece aloud is a special way to create a bond with listeners.

Like any kind of performance, the audience has made a decision to come out, and spend their time and probably money to support the venue and reader.

They could be anywhere, and they have chosen to be there. So, the reader should come prepared, organized, and give a reading that draws in the audience, to relate, and appreciate.

RON: Thank you so much, Meg! I don’t want to totally hog this interview, so I want to give Paul a chance to ask you a few questions…

PAUL: Thanks, Ron, I appreciate that. Meg, having written five volumes of poetry and a collection of short fiction, do you have any sage advice for someone putting together a manuscript for the first time?

MEG: I always start with a kind of curating. Both for my poetry and fiction books, I assemble works that may from an earlier time — the 1990s — to the present. Because writing from different times is going to relate different perspectives and experiences, I think this helps in creating interest.

For the poetry books, I create chapters around certain themes, and organize the poetry in each chapter according to those themes.

I believe in creating a logical progression, so the reader can start and read from beginning to end — or just pick up the book and read from a place that draws them in.

I usually mix in previously-published work with some that are new, appearing for the first time in the book. I’m not sure that any of this is sage, but it helps to have a system that provides structure. Also, to set deadlines.

PAUL: What can you tell us about the Edgar Allan Poe Show, and how and when it first came about?

MEG: One of the intriguing aspects of Poe’s life is that he lived and worked in so many different places. Poe was invited to give a lecture in Lowell, in 1848. When I first learned about this, I was really excited.

The first Edgar Allan Poe Show was in October 1995. It was very informal — we had readings from Poe, of course, and a gothic beauty pageant, fun things like that.

I’ve presented the Edgar Allan Poe Show every few years — in 1998, for the 150th anniversary of his Lowell lecture; 2009 and 2015. With the coronavirus crisis, it’s likely that I will put something together in a virtual format, with times and details to be developed in the near future.

Performing original choreography, “In A Kingdom by the Sea,” inspired by the poem, “Annabel Lee.” Music: “The Crystal Ship” by The Doors. Edgar Allan Poe Show, Athenian Corner, Lowell, MA., Oct. 18, 2015.

PAUL: Your poetry and fiction has been published in numerous journals, including many horror, science fiction, and speculative publications. Do you have any tips for folks on submitting and getting their work accepted?

MEG: Read the publications and buy them or subscribe when feasible — publications depend on the support of readers. This is especially true of independent publications.

Also, it’s important to read them to get a sense of what kinds of writings the publication seeks.
Most have submission guidelines, and some have specific reading periods.

It’s important to follow the submission guidelines. Never take a rejection personally — most publications receive more submissions than they can publish, and the publication has the right to determine if a submitted piece is the right fit.

PAUL: What attracts you to the horror and science fiction genres, and do you ever write in any other genres?

MEG: I don’t have an easy answer to what attracts me to horror and science fiction. But I do see these genres as providing a place to explore things that are mysterious, unknowable, perhaps frightening, maybe even humorous.

They can confront uncomfortable truths — like Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible — set in the Salem witch trials, but also an allegory for the McCarthy-era persecutions.

I think these genres speak to people and endure because they speak to many emotions, fear being only one.

I do write in other genres, and what is sometimes called “straight” poetry and fiction, not aligned with a specific genre.

Being first-generation, Irish American, I do feel my cultural heritage has a big impact. The Celtic observance of Samhain led to the origin of Halloween.

Irish folklore is full of mysterious beings, such as the Banshee. And Dracula was written by an Irishman, Bram Stoker. I stopped by one of his homes in Dublin.

I was blessed to grow up in this amazing culture; also, there were many, many books in our house. I read Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, H.G. Wells and many others at a very young age. And, like a lot of kids growing up in the Boston area, no Saturday was complete without “Creature Double Feature!”

PAUL: Since you write horror and it is also almost Halloween, my final question for you tonight is what really scares you the most?

MEG: Waking up, going down to the kitchen to feed three hungry cats, and realizing we’re out of dry food!

We live in a frightening time, with a pandemic, threats to the natural environment, economic uncertainty, and many social divisions. I don’t have a lot of personal fear, but it’s my hope we will all take these real problems seriously and look for solutions.

I think Halloween and horror movies and books probably endure because it’s fun to be scared in a controlled sort of way, knowing, as Stephen King once said, that there really is a zipper in the back of the monster suit.

PAUL: Wow! So unless someone in the audience has a question… no?…well then, I guess that concludes the interview portion of our program. Meg, thank you so much for such a fantastic and fascinating interview.

Now, folks, please sit back and enjoy as Meg Smith presents selected poems (including some spooky ones befitting of All Hallow’s Eve) from her many collections of poetry,…

MEG: I’m so pleased and honored to be this month’s feature for the October 2020 Virtual Poetorium! Starlite for October 2020.

In keeping with the spooky season, I’d like to share some gothic and horror poems, in addition to poems on less supernatural topic from my five poetry books.

The four most recent books, Pretty Green Thorns, Night’s Island, This Scarlet Dancing, and Dear Deepest Ghost, are published by Emu Books. I’ve also included a poem from my first poetry book, The First Fire, which I published through my own publishing house, Gekko Party Productions.

My most recent poetry book, Pretty Green Thorns, is inspired by my Irish and Irish-American heritage. I am a first-generation Irish-American; my mom is from Ireland, and my father is from Charlestown. This book plays tribute to the influence of my culture, my family and my ancestors.

This is a time of year when lots of us are thinking about Halloween, which originated in the Celtic observance of Samhain — the end of the year, when people believed it was possible to communicate with departed spirits.

This poem is dedicated to my fellow Irishman, the musician Eddy Dyer, who, like me, lives in Lowell, Mass. This poem, “Samhain Sabbath,” honors our loved ones now in the realm of spirits.

Samhain Sabbath
For Eddy Dyer (Edward Donelon Dwyer)

Frank came into Dunkin’s before midnight.
He pulled off the green hood of his sweatshirt,
and began to tell us stories —
stories of your brothers, their outposts
behind mills, and around bonfires.
He came with a message:
“Mikey, I’m alive. Hope you are well.”
Mikey lived for the stories.
“Remember this,” Frank said.
“Hold up that picture of a woman on a mattress.
Shake it. You think she’d fall off the bloody thing.”
Hearing this, our childhoods
claw at our bellies — the music, rampant,
the walls, purple,
the sun, a grease spot in our eyes.
What draws us closed again, takes us to now —
the man in the green-sequined bow tie
in the booth behind us
gets up to tell us Irish jokes.
But he is soon gone, home to dream
Of the wreath-laying at the Irish monument
At City Hall.
Still — Frank has a message —
scrawled on the back of a flyer
for one of your shows —
“Mikey, I’m alive, hope you are well.”
On the car ride home, the windows frost.
The dead’s own dead begin,
now sober,
now wards
of the living.
That would be you and I,
singing, alive.I

—Meg Smith (from Pretty Green Thorns)

Also from Pretty Green Thorns, I’d like to share the poem, “Bram Stoker Bequest.” Bram Stoker was Irish, and the author of the novel, Dracula. While in Dublin in 2018, I stopped by a home where he once lived.

I am proud of the Irish contributions to literature, including Dracula, which has never gone out of print. I am proud that this poem appeared in the magazine, Celtic Beat, and in the anthology, Atlantic Currents: Connecting Cork and Lowell, from Loom Press.

Bram Stoker Bequest (Dublin, September 2018)

Our blood bloomed
from the land of hunger.
Our songs rose
from the land of winter.
Green, among
your ghosts,
your words from your life.
I’m standing
at your door,
on Kildare Street.
A housing protest
is brewing
at the street’s end.
Across the way,
Yeats’ voice
in bright clouds
rise from the
national library.
Our home
is our fire, ghosts.
Still, still we burn
and they burn
and our songs
cover the clouds
of low-lying hills.

–Meg Smith (from Pretty Green Thorns)

My poetry book, Night’s Island, speaks to places of sanctuary — whether physical or virtual — which also become places of mystery.

This poem, “The Diamond Light,” was inspired by a strange experience my late husband, Larry and I, upon returning from the Lizzie Borden exhibit at the Fall River Historical Society. This exhibit was a truly chilling experience that seemed unwilling to leave us.
I’m honored that this poem also appeared in the publication, The Literary Hatchet. I guess there was some serendipity there!

The Diamond Light

It was all that we saw
in the fading sun in
Fall River,
and all we returned.
Lying in the gray dark,
talking through what was
this day:
over the mantel piece,
with the Waterhouse mermaid.
You knew, because
breath blushed along your face.
You knew, because
glancing cats tread
where you lie.
And if she followed us, in
this her deep haze,
you know, and take with you,
as you took with you
into that best and longest night.

—Meg Smith (from Night’s Island)

My poetry book, This Scarlet Dancing, is inspired by the passions we all carry — for those we love, the pain we feel, the struggle for our dreams. This book includes my poem, “The Perfect Cat,” which was inspired by plush cats made by the nuns and clients at St. Julie Asian Center in Lowell. They had sayings on little tags, in English, Khmer and Vietnamese. One of them said, “I am a perfect cat,” and inspired this poem, which was first published in a wonderful journal called The Catbird Seat.

The Perfect Cat
For the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, St. Julie Asian Center, Lowell, Mass.

Moon eye, button eye,
hail of sequins and hissing threads,
sutured in an unhissing mouth.
Mouth of meows it is, and opens:
“I am a perfect cat.”

The moon leaps from a sewing box,
Moon of moons, deep sea-red,
to overtake the cats as they sleep, in the steam bath of fjords
between men and women —
oh, who in that bed is perfect?

Inky-musk. A cat wakes, whisper-cat,
and with sewn mouth-meows,
one sequin-eye in a pool of glue.
With that one eye it stares and growls,
“I am a beautiful cat.”

All the cats die for beauty.
They fall from trees, from milk crates, and into
the slim gutter outside the door.
All the cats cry out: “O Bast, O Nefertiti, O Elizabeth Taylor-eyed Bast,
save me from the soldiers who drown me
with an adulterous woman, from the priest who strapped me to Joan of Arc,
O Bast of Bette Davis eyes, I am climbing the side of Heaven to you.
O Bast, rebirth me, dump me out again, a wet mole-lump into
‘Not on my work pants, dammit.’
O saint of gutter cats, I am coming to you with my sewn mouth
and I cry out to Heaven:
‘I am a smiling cat.'”

In Heaven, cats guard the couches they disemboweled,
and the sparrows they spat up with gloriana.
Perfect cat, smiling cat, beautiful cat,
crawl up and out of Heaven,
and out of the watery mouth of soul.

—Meg Smith (from This Scarlet Dancing)

With my career as a journalist and as an Oriental dancer, I took a hiatus from publishing poetry books, and so Dear Deepest Ghost is the first poetry book I published after several years. It includes the poem, “Doctorate Among the Living,” which is dedicated to the memory of my late husband, the poet and scientist, Lawrence Carradini.

He completed his doctorate two years before he died. I like to include it in poetry readings, as an invocation to his loving spirit and amazing legacy of perseverance.

Doctorate Among the Living

Larry
whatever was
that white fleeting, under the power lines,
under the horns of Mars,
black dove,
what was that shadow on the Merrimack,
whooping crane,
or on the sidewalk,
a cat molded from night,
that brooks no passage without first a poem.
They do all conciliate —
Larry you were the one true
vertebrate
walking upright in the great river of folkways.
Standing, casting, gathering to yourself
fish, and now,
I, among them,
still cannot contain you,
transcending all ever backbone
my fine finest ever silver cloud.

—Meg Smith (from Dear Deepest Ghost)

My very first poetry book, The First Fire, was published in fall 1995. It’s hard to believe that was 25 years ago! I am working on a 25th anniversary special edition.

The First Fire remains special to me because it reflects all the feelings and fragilities of this time in my life, when I was working to establish myself as a writer and journalist, amid Lowell’s vibrant and dazzling cultural community.

This poem, “The Master of the Flood,” was inspired by a young boy who lived next door, and who was deaf. It speaks to finding hope and resilience, even where they may be unexpected.

I’d like to close with this poem, and give thanks for the opportunity to share some of my poems. May we all be safe and well on our journeys, and may the power of poetry give strength in uncertain times — as it has in times past, and surely will in the future.

Master of the Flood

Geoffrey baptizes.
He climbs the chain link fence
and steals a fish
from our compost heap.
He plunges it into
a rain-filled barrel.
When the water does not
force breath through its gills,
he presses the fish to his chest
and sobs.
In his sleep, he herds the fish
Through gutters,
and oily puddles
with rainbow sheen.
He stops and kneels
to drink the rainbow,
Knowing it is God’s covenant
never again to destroy
the Earth with water.

–Meg Smith (from The First Fire)

PAUL: Wow! Thank you, Meg! That was really enjoyable! Everyone, please give a big hand for tonight’s feature, Meg Smith!

In a few minutes, we’ll be taking a short intermission, but before we do, it’s time once again to present this month’s Poetorium group poem. Since it’s October, this month’s poem suitably has a Halloween theme. Participants were asked to email us one to six lines starting with the short phrase. “On All Hallow’s Eve “. All contributions received (which as usual will remain anonymous) were then compiled into the following poem:

On All Hallow’s Eve…

On All Hallows’ Eve,
the evil we fear
can easily cross
between this World
and that Dark Other.

On All Hallows’ Eve,
the veil between life and death
is delicately thin, even those
with the best of intentions
likely sin.

On All Hallows’ Eve,
run fast because the dead
don’t run slow-
and once death catches you-
it will never let go!

On All Hallows’ Eve,
the veil is thin
the dead will grin
when you hear knocking
don’t let them in

On All Hallows’ Eve,
the imagination is tricked
by the darkness
and treated by the sweet.

On All Hallows’ Eve,
Adam tricked Eve.

On All Hallows’ Eve,
October 31st, is when the goblins
and ghosts eat the most candy,
and they never hardly host the dead
because they have no candy…

On All Hallows’ Eve,
the Druids stalk the forests
smiling like Cheshire cats.

On All Hallows’ Eve,
the evening air always seems faintly scented
with the acrid smoke of distant bonfires, while shadows
lurk within shadows and fallen leaves, propelled by
an almost nonexistent breeze, skitter across the pavement
looking like exotic spiders sporting harvest hues.

On All Hallows’ Eve,
the blade of the wind
through autumn’s rattling leaves
brought me to my knees
begging like the man I was ~

haunted by mortality.

Well, folks, that concludes the first part of the Virtual Poetorium. We”ll be taking a brief intermission so you can grab a drink, reflect on all the great poetry you have heard so far tonight, and perhaps  even purchase a copy of  one of Meg Smith’s many amazing books available at our virtual vendor’s table. When we come back, I’ll be presenting the numerous submissions we received for this month’s six word story writing challenge, followed by Ron hosting our virtual open mic.

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INTERMISSION BEGINS

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Click Here to Purchase Night’s Island and Other Books of Poetry by Meg Smith

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INTERMISSION ENDS

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PAUL: Hey, folks, welcome back from the break! Ron will be starting the virtual open mic in just a bit, but first, I’ll be presenting the Poetorium Writing Challenge, a relatively new segment of the Virtual Poetorium in which each month we challenge you to write in a different flash fiction or poetic form. This month’s challenge was to write a six word story. I have to declare this month’s challenge to be a rousing success with us receiving 26 stories (most of them rather spooky and especially suited for Halloween, but not all) from 10 different people (including Ron and myself). As you may or may not know, six word stories can be divided into two differing variations: ones with titles and ones without. Interestingly, most of our contributors seemed to be distinctly divided into the two different schools with just three, Howard J Kogan, Christine Burlingame, and Robert Racicot, submitting untitled stories while five, Dwayne Szlosek, Robert Eugene Perry, Jonathan Blake, Michael McAfee, and myself, writing ones with titles. Only Barbera Roberts sent in some of each variety. Ron, being a maverick (some would say a troublemaker) created his own unique version, one with a title, but with the title appearing at the end of the story instead of the beginning:

Shoulda,
woulda,
coulda,
didn’t,
couldn’t,
wouldn’t.

TRICK OR TREAT

—Ron Whittle

Robert Racicot sent us this trilogy of interconnected untitled stories, that can be either read individually or in succession:

Barrel in mouth, finger on trigger.

—Robert Racicot

Loved one in the crosshairs, pull.

–Robert Racicot

The children are still, collateral damage.

—Robert Racicot

Here are the rest of the thirteen untitled stories we received:

Slowly vision penetrates the dark shadow.

—Howard J Kogan

Death: better luck next time sucker!

—Christine Burlingame

Steps slowly climb the cellar stairs.

—Howard J Kogan

A bees life: sweet but short.

—Christine Burlingame

Flashing red lights pulse through blinds.

—Howard J Kogan

She’s the heroine of new beginnings.

—Christine Burlingame

Death need not wait for night.

—Howard J Kogan

“Father loved horror more than family.”

—Barbera Roberts

Love, an illusion of the heart.

—Christine Burlingame

It’s nothing, it must be nothing.

—Howard J Kogan

And here are the dozen stories submitted with titles:

The Woman Who Casted No Reflection…

She wasn’t a vampire, just invisible.

—Paul Szlosek

Force 10 Winds

Don’t get on a lee shore!

—Barbera Roberts

The Man in the Mirror

It was no one I recognized.

—Paul Szlosek

BIGFOOT IN THE SWAMP

Here Bigfoot lives in peace, tranquility…

—Dwayne Szlosek

The Tragedy of Mister Magoo at the Okefenokee

Without warning, the “log” began moving…

—Paul Szlosek

Need to Breathe

Trees felled. Air thinned. Chest tight.

—Robert Eugene Perry

Still Life

Her shadow moved, but she didn’t.

—Paul Szlosek

In the Style of Neil Gaiman

“I’m dead.”
“I still love you.”

—Michael McAfee

The Expected Intruders

Graverobbers break into mausoleum… someone’s waiting.

—Paul Szlosek

MORTE

Yes, the room she was born!

—Jonathan Blake

The Flying Dutchman

Look! A ghost ship over there!

–Barbera Roberts

The Time That I and My Entire Family Metamorphosed Into Tiny Bumblebees and Flew Away…

Wheee! Wheee! We be wee bees!

—Paul Szlosek

Well, that concludes this month’s Poetorium Writing Challenge. I hope you enjoyed all the stories, and look forward to next month’s challenge as much as I do. And remember, please consider submitting next time.

And now, heeere’s Ronnie…

RON: Thanks, Paul. Okay, everyone let’s get the open mike started. I will lead off and next up to bat will be Joe Fusco Jr.

My entry into the open mic is this:

Two Flights Up

Somewhere in the big city
a naked mannequin
in the store-front window
shyly looks away
from the city sidewalk
gawkers
While across the street
and two floors up
I listen to the
sounds of the city night
with nothing on, waiting
on her
And just beyond the dark
of the room
my love disrobes
blossoming into a rose
as she steps into subdued
ambient city light in the bedroom
The sky darkens deeper
in spite of the streetlights
that partially light up
the drawn window shades
Like the shadow of branches
outside of the windows
We stand like two totally
leafless trees wearing
nothing but
heaven, earth, and each other
Together we smiled
out loud
when our limbs
wrapped around one other
in a loving grip
and moments later, she becomes
a naked rider
on a runaway stallion
somewhere in the big city

—Ron Whittle

RON: Now please welcome back to the Virtual Poetorium, Joe Fusco Jr. who made his first appearance here last month….

Joe Fusco Jr.

JOE:

Old Blue Eyes

It was a Sunday afternoon in late May of the 2020 Pandemic.

My wife and I were getting cozy in the Family Room,
sans clothing, ‘Alexa’ playing Frank Sinatra softly.

‘Send in the Clowns.’

Without a heads up, so to speak, our son-in-law Rich
unlocked the front door and walked through the house
so he could put some stuff in our basement.

There is a mirror in the hallway across from the door
to the basement steps that shows everything
that may be going on in the Family Room.

Rich happened to look in that mirror.

He dropped what he was carrying,
scurried back out of the house,
and re-joined my daughter in their Ford Escape.

“I’m not going back in there.
I think your parents are having sex,” he told Amanda.

She chuckled and texted her mother.

Couple nights later, Rich, Amanda,
and the grandkids came over for pizza in the backyard.

I hooked up the Echo Dot outside.

“Alexa, please play Rich’s favorite singer,”
I asked as my son-in-law picked up a slice of pepperoni.

‘Two Sweethearts and the Summer Wind, ‘crooned Old Blue Eyes.

—Joe Fusco Jr.

RON: Now here is a good friend of the Poetorium, Dwayne Szlosek…

Dwayne Szlosek

DWAYNE:

COME ALL THAT WAY JUST TO SAY:

What is that bright light in the sky
I see over dale near the mountain trail?
Hovering with green, yellow, and red lights,
blinking on and off, like if they were christmas tree lights
then zigging and zagging, as if the pilot left a gin mill
much earlier that night and forgot to tell his superiors
that he has been drinking all night.
Frosty cold alcohol, that he called his buddies,
truth and courage and he loves them both.

But just wait one minute, that is not one of ours,
it looks like a UFO coming my way.
It certainly doesn’t look like one of ours, per se.
Ir looks like it came all this way from another planet.
It is round and shiny like my hiney,
and it goes ‘woober, woober’ as it flies on by,
then stops and flies in reverse,
like if it has seen me standing there
like a deer in its headlights.

It stops and lands near me.
“Oh. what could it want from me?”, I say.
It still goes ‘woober, woober’
with all its bright lights
just sitting there in the starry night.
Then finally it shoots out a beam of light.
Two creatures come out from that light.
They see me and say “It is probing time!”

With that, I make tracks,
heading into the pitch black,
never looking back to wait and see
what they meant by saying
“probing time”. And that is a fact…

—Dwayne Szlosek (12\15\2018)

Thank you, you have been a super crowd tonight.
Happy Halloween to you all, and you all a good night…

RON: Now please give a big welcome to the always entertaining Howard J. Kogan…

Howard J Kogan (Photo Courtesy of Dan Tappan)

HOWARD: Another version of this creative non-fiction piece was published in A Chill in the Air (Square Circle Press, 2016).

What I Learned at the Pigeon Store

The older men I knew as a boy weren’t schooled but they knew what they knew. They knew pigeons. They knew kids; there were two kinds, good kids and good for nothing kids, neither of them knew how to work, both thought the world owed them a living.

These were their sons; they never talked about daughters, the daughters belonged to their wives and while wives complained about sons, mothers only talked about daughters with their mothers.

These men knew the difference between men and women; women had two feelings, sadness which came with tears or anger which came with yelling. Men had one feeling, anger, which came with yelling or icy silence.

Men were normal, women were nuts, men forgot things, let things pass, women, like elephants, never forgot anything, and they never let men forget either.

Sometimes the men talked about their fathers, their anger and violence, of their beating them or their mothers, until the son finally got big enough, strong enough, to knock their fathers down.

As they told it, it would happen once and after that, the fathers wilted, never hit anyone again.

Even though these men were tough they didn’t want to be like their fathers, they never hit their wives, rarely their sons. When they did argue with their wives it was about her spending money for a carpet or a new couch.

These fights would end with him storming out and going to his mother’s or the pigeon store which seemed to be open day and night. Wherever he went he’d rant a while and his mother would tell him, You’re a dope just like your father, may he rest in peace, then she’d kiss him and make him dinner or if he ended up at the pigeon store he’d be told, You know, you got shit for brains, so what if your wife wants nice things, you’re making good money, don’t be such a tight-ass.

Then I’d be sent down the block for two pizzas or a triple order of spareribs from the Chinese takeout. By the time I got back, the fight would be forgotten, and they’d be talking pigeons again.

—Howard J Kogan

RON: Now please welcome to the virtual microphone, Christine Burlingame…

Christine Burlingame

CHRISTINE: Hope everyone is healthy and happy.

Like many New Englanders, I enjoy the Autumn very much. During my hikes I have noticed the warmer weather has created such a beautiful kaleidoscope of fall foliage. I can’t help but snap a picture of a colorful leaf!

Another hobby of mine (as you can see) is using special effects makeup to create characters. I love using makeup to create different looks during the month of October! I also love Halloween and anything creepy! Give me fake blood, killer clowns, and sketchy skeletons-It’s time to be silly and pretend!

Happy Halloween!

Here’s my poem…

‘October is a Season’

A New England Fall
more reminiscent
of Southern California’s-
slow dance into
cooler weather.
Sandals, shorts, sunglasses
and maybe an oversized,
but stylish sweater.
A Floridian’s farewell
with tropical rains
and leaves pleated against
opened deck door screens.
Chaos outside of flowers and trees
blooms set ablaze, bees
golden with sickness
leaves-
once green gingered with promise
now become russet and
forlorn with age.
October is a season
of both departure and death.
The smell of burnt foliage
and wood from a bonfire
that a sharp inhale of rotting leaves
the seasons last dying breath.
A stray from the normalcy
into a backwards transport into time.
Is it summer or spring again?
The days have become short,
but this warmer weather warrants a calendar check
-or perhaps, a rewind.
A Fall with hope
of a storybook Winter alignment,
without that biting frost
and cabin fever (now masked) confinement.
Here, transfixed in this
unusual New England
Autumn spell- Iam Carpo.
I hold my hand out to wave
and give this long,
confusing season,
a tender farewell.

–Christine Burlingame

RON: Our next poet has become a regular this year at the Virtual Poetorium – please welcome Barbera Roberts!

BARBERA:

Ole Hallow’s Eve
Along the East Branch

The East Branch of the river
Reveals itself
Catching October sunlight here
Dark shadow there.

Centuries ago this river fed the lonely Celtic farmer
Quenching the thirst of his oxen.
Where once his Samhain festivals were
His grapes now ripen in the sun.

His sweat splashed on wall-stones
That now play host to fall-yellow ferns
While White and Purple Asters listen
To chickadees and migrants’ songs.

He marked the boundary of his land
And built the foundation of his home
Deep cellared with his stone strong chimney
That fireplace warmed life, the living.

Hard work, back breaking work
Side by side with his sons he cast them
His wife toiling near the hearth
Her daughters turning flax into cloth.

His sons harvested the fields
Butchered the cattle
His wife canned food
For the long dark winter.

He read by his fireplace
Still worshiping old pagan myths.
Oil lamp and homemade candle dipped
He the watchman on Ole Hallow’s Eve.

Twas then that spirits roamed the forest
Intent on mischief making
He lit special fires to keep away evil,
And the darkness of the night.

He knew the boundary between
This World and the Other
Can more easily
Be crossed on Ole Hallow’s Eve.

His Mumming with song helped
Guising played its part
He used divination
To sense his future

The Celt’s home boundary now lost in time.
Pre-Christian festivals replaced with Bible verses
Where winged sumac’s red leaves
Own their purple stems.

Golden rod catches yellow light.
A lady slipper dreams of Its spring blossom.
The empty cellar hole remembers ancient Samhain festivals
While dense forests grow along the East Branch.

—Barbara Roberts

RON: We now come to Bob Perry, another long time friend of the Poetorium…

Robert Eugene Perry

BOB: I wrote this a number of years ago for my wife, who was doing home day care at the time.

Tired Mom

Once upon a time there was a tired mom. Her name you ask? Well, since all moms are tired it could be anyone, Kristina or Kara or Kukamonga, it makes no difference. So we will call her Tired Mom or TM for short.

One day TM came home from a particularly grueling day at the sweat shop…why a sweat shop, you ask? Well, it is a metaphor for the daily grind whatever it may be: an office, a school, nuclear warhead factory, whatever.

Anyway, she looked around the house and saw the laundry strewn about, the toys in various piles, the snack plates left by the TV, the homework undone on the kitchen table, the kids fighting over a video game in the other room – she sighed deeply as she walked into all this for the umpteenth time.

She put down her bags and sorted through the mail. One envelope was all gold with no return address on it. She opened it expecting one of those tricky advertisements that were always too good to be true.

She looked at the fancy lettering and read the following message:

Hello there tired working mother.

House a mess? Homework undone? Kids fighting?
Have you ever wished for a little help in your daily routine?
Call now for our free two week trial!
No up front costs, no hidden fees, no gimmicks!
Someone will come to your home to start helping immediately!
111 ~ 111~ 1111 toll free!
Sincerely,
The Friend of the Tired Mother

What a weird letter. Still, two weeks free. Although it sounded too good to be true, at that moment something fell and broke in the other room and the cat came running out with noodles all over his back looking like some strange feline jellyfish .

She picked up the phone and dialed. “Well hello there Tired Mother,” the male voice on the other end began.

“Hello, I received a letter in the mail…”

There was a knock at the door. “Oh sorry, just a moment. Someone is at the door.” The line went dead. “Hello? Hello?” She hung the phone up and placed it on the table. Then she walked to the door.
She opened the door to see the smarmiest looking guy she had ever laid eyes on. His teeth were whiter than white, and he was grinning ear to ear. “Can I help you?” she asked.

He showed her the side of the briefcase he was carrying. It read ‘The Friend of the Tired Mother’. “You rang?” The smile stayed on his face.

He was creepy, no doubt. “I just dialed the phone…” she began, and he pushed in past her and sat at the table. He flipped open the briefcase and began looking for something.

“Excuse me, but I never said anything about starting the free trial. I only called to get information…”

He held up a hand to cut her off. “You called because you are desperate. That is why I am here.” He pulled a piece of paper out of the briefcase and placed it on the table. “Ah, here we are.” He pulled a pen from his pocket and put it on top of the paper. “Perhaps you would like to know how i got here so fast.”

The smile never left his face for a moment. It was like he was a talking grin. “Yes, how did you get here so fast? It does not seem humanly possible.”

He laughed through those teeth, a sound completely devoid of mirth. “Of course it isn’t humanly possible. Now, if you will look over the agreement for the two week trial…”

She opened the door and pointed. “You need to leave. NOW.”

Just then her two adolescent boys raced into the kitchen and stopped when they saw the stranger at the table.

“Who are you?” the youngest asked. He was never one for social graces.

That smile never faltered for an instant. “Why, I am your new master little Zachariah.” He snapped his fingers and Zak’s eyes dilated to tiny pinholes as he intoned, “Yes, sir.”

He turned to Josiah and said, “You look like a bright boy. Why don’t you go clean your room without me having to snap my fingers.” Jos ran off without having to be told twice.

“What have you done to my son?” Tired Mom wailed. “Bring him back!”

“As you wish.” He snapped his fingers again.

Zak’s eyes grew wide again. “Wow, that was cool! Do it again!” He turned to his mom. “That was like flying through the clouds!” He looked back at the stranger. “How did you do that?”

TM fought for composure. “Never mind, Zak, he was just leaving.” She tried to keep her voice calm and level as she told the stranger, “You need to go…”

He turned to Zak and said, “Run along now and play, your mom and I have some business to discuss.” Zak ran back into the other room. “Now, why don’t you read the first paragraph of the agreement?”

She looked to see that Zak had left the room. Then she spoke through gritted teeth, “Why don’t you take your agreement and shove it up…”

His hand went up and she was powerless to finish the statement. “Well then,” he picked the paper up and began to read out loud: “The Tired Mother Two Week Trial begins the moment the representative enters the home.” He looked up from the paper to see her standing there with her mouth half open, still frozen in the middle of speaking. “Shall I continue? Very good.” He went back to the paper. “Once the client/representative finishes reading the agreement, the applicant will sign the form allowing said representative full authority to assist in the running of the household as he/she sees fit. Failure to comply will result in the immediate imprisonment of all household pets until such time as the form is signed.”

He lowered his hand and held out the pen with the other.

TM could not believe this was happening to her family. It was like something out of a terrible story that someone tells to make a point about something. The only thing she knew at that moment was that signing that piece of paper looked like a bad deal.

“How can you take advantage of people like this? That is nothing like a legal contract, you can’t just force your way in my house and write a contract that justifies it. And what is this about imprisoning my pets?”

“You called us, that puts us in the right.” Still the smile never wavered. “Are you refusing to sign? Would you like to see what happens to your dog, your cat, your birds?”

The dog was outside and had been barking intermittently since the stranger arrived. The cat was curled up over in the corner. The birds were in the bay window in the other room. “Look, I don’t want any trouble…” she began to say.

The man snapped his fingers and the barking stopped, the cat disappeared. He reached into his briefcase and pulled out a paperweight with a miniature dog, a cat and two birds that perfectly resembled their household pets. He set it on the table.

While the break from the dog’s barking was a relief, the situation was just too weird to fully accept. Tired Mom began to giggle.

For the first time since his arrival, the smarmy man’s smile faltered. “You find this amusing?”

She couldn’t help herself. “They will be easier to feed and clean up that way. And they won’t be so underfoot. How thoughtful of you.” She continued to giggle.

“There is nothing funny about this. Your animals are suffering greatly. You need to sign the paper.”

She picked up the paperweight and looked closely at it. “Even the birds seem to be smiling. They all look so happy in there.”

The stranger was gritting those shiny white teeth and holding out his pen. “Sign this. Now.” The threat was clear in his voice.

She took the pen in her right hand and held the paperweight in the other. She walked around the table to where he was seated with the paper.

“Okay,” she said. He seemed to relax and the smile came back. “I would miss my animals too much anyway.”

“A sensible girl.” He sat back and relaxed.

She turned quickly and whacked the paperweight as hard as she could on his temple, at the same time driving the pen into his jugular vein.

He vanished just as quickly as he came, leaving a pile of ash and the smell of brimstone in the air.

Zak came back into the room at that moment. “Hey, where did that magic guy go? I wanted to go flying again!”

Tired Mom just smiled and pointed to the ashes on the chair. “He vanished, like a good magician should.”

Zak came and hugged her, and suddenly she no longer felt tired. Jos came out of his bedroom and asked, “Whoa, what’s that smell? Was that you Zak?”

As Zak chased his brother back into the living room she smiled and swept up the ashes and flushed them down the toilet.

Soon her husband would be coming home from work and they could go back to being tired spouses together.

And she would go back to throwing away offers that seemed too good to be true.

—Robert Eugene Perry

RON: Last but not least on the open mic, is Robert Racicot who was our featured poet at the Poetorium at Starlite last year at this time…

Robert Racicot

ROB:

The Stone Cross

Little Davey Rhodes, young enough to still believe anything,
weeps, pants soaked in urine, sits on the base of the towering
granite sentinel, guarding the dead of St. Roch’s cemetery,
perched on top, the owl Katyogle, bird of omens, predator of fates, asks whoooo?
as dark cloud specters arrive, witnesses to atonement on this new, no moon night.

Legend has it the stone cross judges’ souls,
those deemed unworthy swallowed under forever
on Halloween, Samhain, Die de los Muertos eve,
my brother, “The Viking”, celebrated Aflablot
a human sacrifice to the elves, who dwell below,
thanksgiving for a bountiful bullied-neighborhood year.

“The Viking” laughs his Viking laugh,
minions’ guffaw beside themselves
passing the ceremonial joint in a circle of revelry,
feasting on Davey’s tricks or treats harvest
tis right to offer up a sacrifice, tis fun to make
young boys cry and wet their pants.

–Robert Racicot

RON: Okay, people, before I close out the show, I’d like to bring back to the podium, my co-host and fellow co-conspirator Paul Szlosek…

Paul Szlosek Wearing a Homemade Halloween Mask He Made From Paper Mache

PAUL: Thanks, Ron! Tonight I’d like to share two poems that I wrote which I feelare very appropiate for the Halloween season. The first is a Streetbeatina, a poetry form I originally created to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Street Beat, the amazing open poetry reading series that our very own Anne Marie Lucci ran and hosted in Worcester for many years. It is an eight line poem with each line consisting of eight syllables. What makes this form both a challenge to write and uniquely different from other forms is that the first syllable of the first line is repeated as the second syllable in the second line, the third syllable of the third line and so on, the repetition of the sound of the syllable at precise intervals providing the poem with a natural beat and musicality. This poem was originally published in the online poetry journal Radius: Poetry From the Center to the Edge:

Ghost Story

Local legends say if you go
solo into the deep dark woods
when the lotus blossom first blooms,
and the moon’s low in the night sky,
the girl in yellow will appear,
her lips mouthing “Hello, my love”
while lunar light spills like lotion
on skin translucent as jello.

—Paul Szlosek (originally published by Radius: Poetry From the Center to the Edge)

This second poem originally appeared in We Are Beat:The National Beat Poetry Festival Anthology published last year:

Night of the Walking Dead

No matter what George Romero or AMC
Might have led us to believe, if the Dead,
One night, should ever rise en mass from their graves,
It won’t be because they developed
A sudden hankering for the taste of human flesh.
Rather, so sick of being still for so long,
They’d simply wish to practice the advice
Of their general practitioners postmortem,
Stretch their legs and get a bit of exercise.

And who among us would not care to join
Them on their nocturnal rambles, as they shuffle
Down streets, amble across the countryside?
The dead would be ideal walking companions,
Silent, never interrupting our stroll,
With inane conversation, complaints
That their feet are killing them.

Yet where would we go,
What routes would they travel?
Would they seek out the familiar,
Retrace the steps of their former existence,
Slog through the old stomping grounds,
Past the corner stores, the bars, the offices,
The homes they once adored or dreaded returning to?

Or trek boldly into Robert Frost territory,
Saunter down the roads not taken in Life,
Proving Curiosity did not kill the cat, but resurrected it?

But no matter. Any ambulatory adventures with the Dead
Can only end one way. As much as we try,
The Living can not keep up. Someone is always dying.
The Dead stride forward. We falter and fall behind
Until they are a speck on the horizon, passing
From our vision as they once did from our lives.

—Paul Szlosek (originally published in We Are Beat:The National Beat Poetry Festival Anthology)

Before I turn the virtual microphone back over to Ron to close out the show, I just want to thank everyone that participated in tonight’s program including our feature Meg Smith, the talented contributors to our Halloween group poem, everyone in the virtual open reading, and especially everyone who participated in this month’s Poetorium Form Writing Challenge: Howard, Barbera, Dwayne, Ron, Michael, Jonathan, Bob, Rob, and Christine. It goes without saying you really are all amazing people and poets and without all of you, the Poetorium in any form would not exist! So thank you all once again from the bottom of my heart.

RON: I’ve lost track of how many of these shows we’ve put on like this, but I too want to thank each and everyone of you that have participated. Paul and I originally came up with this idea to keep the show going after the shutdown. We wanted to keep local poetry alive and keep it front and center.Although that is true, we also thought it would keep all our poets from going stir crazy being locked up behind the doors of COVID-19.

And now folks it’s time for the closing of this month’s show. It’s always hard to come up with something that is appropriate for closing the show, sometimes it’s just not possible.

With that in mind here is my closing poem…

Sometimes I Think I Don’t Deserve Someone Like You

Heaven sings to those
willing to listen
and what my world needs is love
when volunteers are fewing
Sleep softly lovely lady
and dream beautiful dreams
Hope is a beacon
a flash in the night
over turbulent seasium
pointing your way home
All is not lost
where memories and stones
once were tossed
Though the heavens
have darkened
the Angels gather around
to bathe you within there light
When you are loved
you’re never really alone
So sleep softly lovey lady sleep
and dream beautiful dreams
for tomorrow is always a
brand new day
and where there is love
there will always be life

—Ron Whittle (2020)

Good night, everyone (waving his hand)! May peace be with you and yours,
wear your masks, and please stay healthy!

Good night, Mrs Cowart where ever you are!

See you next month, from Paul and I. We luv you guys!