Happy Pride to my LGBTQIA family and and friends. I want to thank all of you who have talked to me about my journey, helped me find my place, and continue to love me as I figure it out. Back in my early teens I knew I was different, not sure how but I knew. I was raised a boy, and while I did the boy stuff I never felt a part of the team, so to speak. I have always been attracted to women but more so to empathy, compassion, creativity, and inner beauty. That manifests in all genders and identities.
I’ve been a chameleon my entire life, from the time I was a kid. Changing my hair, style, and appearances was part of my way of always being a fluid person. I had crushes on a million people in my day but never felt confident or worthy. Though I’m 6’2” 240 pounds, I’m feel like a skinny little person who is not at all noticeable. I always was afraid of guys and was brutalized by them, physically and mentally. Called fag and homo, weirdo and freak. Assaulted and manipulated. I hated myself for even trying to be apart of their thing.
In college, the first time, I was a 20 year old freshman at a university in Ohio. I tried to find a place amongst the student Christian group but it was a horrific thing so I wandered into the Gay and Lesbian student union, as it was called then. I befriended a bunch of people who just accepted me but I was conflicted having grown up in a very conservative Christian home. I loved those friends and they began to help me find me.
I transferred into a small Christian school in PA and found myself an alien amongst the saints. I believed but with a clearly stated doubt and I featured towards those people who challenged the system. The renegades, activists, musicians, artists and the queer folks that were under the radar.I wasn’t bold enough or educated enough to know what queer was yet but I knew I felt more like them than I did like the straight Christian crew.
I spent the next few years of trial and error between Philly, Cleveland, and New Jersey. I was an addict, an alcoholic and I kept my heavier issues hidden, often going out of town to score or keeping it well out of the eyesight of even my closest friends.
I married a woman I 2002 and served in ministry as a pastor. I worked in music and wrote for publications. I was doing a lot of great stuff but I was also still sick in my addictions but also aware of my queerness but unclear of how I would define it. The next 13 years I was a husband, a mentor, a friend, and a hopeless alcoholic. While I kicked the drugs pretty much out I was a drunk. I also was dying to breathe in the air of my own truth.
It wasn’t until I was divorced, sober, and no longer a Christian that I began to find myself and my queerness. I was embarrassed to be 40 and finally able to be the person I’ve always been. After a dark period in which I did try to end my life, I came out as pansexual and gender non-conforming, though queer seemed more easy as I still find myself fluid despite my masculine appearance. I have never felt I was male but also was not female. I live and breathe in the grey, which was why I used to say I’m just an alien. It’s where I am but it’s who I am. I am still attracted to women fir the most part mainly because I have had horrible experiences with men throughout my life. It’s just that simple. I still find good hearts the best. I’m still growing, so thank you.
In this series I ask artist, poets, and other creators 10 questions about how they’ve maintained creativity and sanity during the past year of chaos and isolation.
10 Questions With Steven Thom (Writer/Poet/Creator) – Cleveland, Ohio
1. How are you doing after a year of Covid-19?
Emotionally, almost over flowing and at times when isolated there is anguish and tears. This is due in part to the emotional pressure involved taking care of my 94yr old Mother. Her health is not good and her mobility is questionable. Being someone struggling with dementia her days and nights are indistinguishable from one another. So fatigue and stress plays a part as well. The fact my social life is nonexistent just adds to the isolation.
2. What are you currently working on?
I am working on my body as best I can. I train with weights three days a week. And read books that are typically non-fiction and poetry from indigent poets. I watch and study global climate activity and overall geological history of the planet. I had been writing poems and editing from a long list of thoughts built up over the last 3 years. But currently not actively writing or editing anything of note.
3. How has the pandemic affected your creative output?
I have gone from writing daily to having written one poem during the last four months. I have no headspace for writing. I’m in a solitary world, with the mentality to grind through it.
4. What has kept you motivated during the last several months?
My motivation is nonexistent to write. I’m forcing myself to read and learn and exercise but I have no words to put on paper. I used to go the Cleveland Art Museum three to four times a year. I haven’t visited in eighteen months. I am hopeful that will change.
5. What have you been listening to, watching or reading?
I watch a lot of You Tube about climate and weather in general, with trailers of various movie trailers I won’t be seeing. Some music but generally only listen in the car, mainly Laurie Anderson of late, or whatever is on WCPN. I’m reading a novel The Overstory, and rereading Breath, how to breathe to improve overall health.
6. Do you have plans for when things begin to open back up?
Not really. All things are pretty much on hold until my Mother passes and I’ve completed the dissolution of her estate. It will be nice to not have to make decisions concerning the right time to shop or go see a movie. I’ll just be able to go without much concern about how many people will be present.
7. Have you spent the pandemic isolated or have you tried to stay connected to other creatives remotely?
I’ve definitely been isolated. I’ve no interest in connecting remotely. Although I’ve had an ongoing phone conversation for the last six months or so with a friend and fellow poet.
8. Has the last year helped you venture into new creative areas?
It’s been a period of self-exploration and discovery. There’s a great deal of recognizing scars from family events. My family was at its best unsupportive and emotionally distant. So, I’ve spent a great deal of time reflecting and coming to terms with the consequences of an abusive childhood. In that sense I’m more at peace due to Covid isolation.
9. What would you say the biggest lesson you learned during the past year?
No alcohol no weed is best for me. And really really embrace a commitment to exercise and health-oriented practices in the many and varied forms in existence today. And finally, its critical, at least to me, to come to terms with my personal history. To be able to try and let the wounds heal as opposed to denying the damage.
10. How do you think your creative community will look once things start to open back up and things start to get more normal again?
The three venues I regularly went to and participated in, may not reopen or have poetry nights at all. So, I’m not certain about what plans I may have. I hope to be at at the Tannery Park Jawbone. And I was part of a trio that was to read poems at Visible Voice but I’m unsure about being indoors with Covid strains swirling around. And the Last Exit readings are still Zoom so until that changes very little will be different than how things are now for me.
I’m a father for two young independent minded adults. When they were young, they traveled with me to some of my Pro bowling tournaments. I was a PBA member for a decade and also ran a bowling pro shop business during that time. Along the way I won the Greater Cleveland Bowling Association Masters title and also contributed to winning two team titles. After closing it down I returned to Baldwin Wallace in 2005 to complete my degree in business. With the mistaken belief, the combination of work experience and education would make me a valued employee in a company. While I maintained employment during the 2007-08 crash and afterwards, my career peaked at store manager level for three different supplement companies. When my Mother had an aortic valve replacement surgery in December of 2018, I quit working to take care of her. With the help of my sister, that has been going on for close to three years now. During that time, I also completed and published by John Burroughs, Crises Chronicles Press a selection of poetry titled, The Strength of Flowers.
My Mind (A Study In How I’ve Disappointed My Parents)
My mind is a used book shop. It is filled up dusty, piled precariously. Packrat, hoarder, floor to ceiling. Unorganized to the outsider, but to me… organized chaos. Just right.
My mind is an old record. Scratched, crackle, pop. Ring wear cover art. Dollar bin. It skips a few songs but plays. Patti Smith, John Coltrane, Lou Reed. In constant rotation. Soundtrack.
My mind is a medicine cabinet. Old needles. Haunted. Demonic. Ghost clang bottles. Glass, shaker. Bad pills traded for good. Prescribed. Still not right. Quite far left. 12 steps…baby steps.
My mind is a part-time bully. Part-time bullied. Fetal position. Fulltime beautiful mess. Scarred. Post-traumatic stressed out. Tired as fuck. Sober, alcoholic, addict. Recovery. Reclusively on call. Ringer off.
My mind works. Day laborer, inconsistent. Sometimes nefariously thoughtful. Vulgar. Tongued whipped truth. Medicated, for my protection. From me. From everyone. The results are varied.
My mind is a collected works. A tattered journal. Bound with string cheese. Lactose intolerant. 44 years. Ginsberg’s madness marked up. Emerging nonconformed. Identity crisis. I’ve disappointed my parents. Again. They’ll be okay.
Several years ago, I was asked to be an assistant coach for a little league baseball team my friend Steve was coaching. This team wasn’t just a typical little league team however, this team was was made up of the left-over kids who didn’t make the other squads around the area. Also this team only had nine players, there are nine positions in baseball, meaning we had no bench, and as the pitching coach, I had no idea how to put together a rotation for the upcoming season. Upon meeting the team, I was immediately aware that we were going to have a rough go of it.
Let’s take a look at the roster. 1st base, Kenny, who was about six feet tall and had absolutely no idea how to play baseball. His size made us coaches excited because we felt we have a potential power hitter, but during his first at bat, Kenny walked to the plate holding his bat upside down. In the field he was not much better, as he put his glove on the wrong hand and backwards, but he was tall, so we stuck him on first. On 2nd base, Julio, the coach’s son who had some raw skills but a debilitating fear of the ball. So much so, that he would jump out of the batter’s box whenever a pitch was thrown and, in the field, he would often play with his eyes tightly closed. The shortstop was Evan, our most gifted athlete, who had a good discipline about him and honestly his only downfall was that he couldn’t play every position at once, so he suffered a great bit for his team. At 3rd Base was Shawn, who had zero interest in sports but surprisingly was gifted with the best arm and could throw from 3rd to 1st with ease, which was never accurate but on the occasion he stopped a ball, he would get it near Kenny, who would normally just watch it sail by into the fence behind 1st base. In leftfield there was Nick, who was one of two brothers on the team, and the antagonist of all of the coaches. His skill set was his speed, but his insistence on challenging his coaches every decision and crying when things didn’t go his way tended to hinder his in-game performance. Centerfield was Andrew, who was Nick’s older brother and the oldest on the team. He was tall skinny kid with natural ability but full of anxiety about his ability to perform, which led to him often making mental errors, to which his brother would mock him. This often resulted in a in game wrestling match in left-center. In rightfield, Tony, who was a stocky and strong kid, who could throw hard and hit a ton, if he made contact. Behind Evan, he was the best pure athlete, but his weakness was that he would cry, often for no distinguishable reason. The crying wasn’t the worst part, it was that when he cried, he also would freeze in place, and it could last up to ten minutes or more. Having no one to replace him with due to our limited roster, Tony would be out in rightfield weeping while we hoped to god no one hit the ball towards him. At catcher, Simon, who was a bit of a troublemaker and foul mouthed, but he was also fearless, so he jumped at the opportunity to get behind the plate. Simon couldn’t really catch, or throw to second base, he often couldn’t throwback to the mound accurately which would delay play while the ball was chased around the field. Finally, at pitcher, Jesse, who was a pitcher by default because when I yelled out “who wants to pitch?” Jesse’s hand went up first. He wasn’t really a pitcher, but he tried which was enough.
Needless to say, this was a ragtag bunch of kids trying to be baseball players for a summer, the results were not great. In fact, we lost every single game, 0-15, but by some sick twist of fate, the little league office mandated that all teams make the playoffs. This was very troubling news to me, as after a long season of losing, player meltdowns, arbitrary crying, and a little actual baseball, I was ready to go about the rest of my summer in peace. Now I had the task of picking a pitcher to start a unearned playoff game but more so the anxiety of, “What if we win? I’ll have to do this again next week. We cannot win this fucking game. Damn it!”
The playoff was against the best team in the league. They had won every game, so our team really stood no chance. During our pre-game warmups we were informed that, our third baseman Shawn might not make it. This left us with eight players, to which I thought, “This is great, we can forfeit, go get ice cream, and I’m done!”, a sentiment shared by at least five of the players that had overheard me mumble it aloud. Steve, our coach, was not about to give up though, he was adorably committed and believed that we might be able to take down this juggernaut of a squad. Shortly before the game, the umpire asked for our line up and upon hearing we were short a player, he asked if we were going to forfeit. I was so excited to say yes! Then Steve got an idea, our opponents team had twenty players to our eight, so he asked the opposing coach if we could borrow a player for the game? To my shock, it was agreed, and the game went forward as planned.
The player we got, was Mo, and Mo ran over to our bench, stood in front of our team and said “Hey! I know I am supposed to play over there today, but now I am here! So, let’s go out there and kick some butt!” then Mo ran onto the field full speed taking centerfield. No one followed him. I had decided to start Andrew at pitcher, because he was our most rested arm and honestly the first kid I saw when I was deciding to pick one. The first inning was quite surprising as Andrew struck out the first two batters, and then the third kid up crushed a ball to deep centerfield, which usually meant a homerun, but this time we had Mo, and he tracked it down. It was the first fly ball caught all season by one of our outfielders. We were jumping up and down like we won the game. Mo flew off the field energizing the normally lethargic team. The celebration was short lived. Just as we were getting used to having Mo and his contagious attitude, off in the distance I saw Shawn, racing down to the dugout from the parking lot. This meant two things. One, Shawn had made it to the game and two, Mo was sadly going back to his team.
We actually took the lead that half inning, and for the next few innings the game was back and forth, aided by a few fluke hits by our guys and even more errors by theirs. Andrew, who had pitched a decent game by little league standards was beginning to wear down. He also was now in a bases loaded situation, that made him extremely anxious. I called time out and approached the mound, “You alright?” I asked. “Coach, I am all kinds of stressed. This is a really not good.” he said with self-awareness of his tendency to allow anxiety to overcome him. “Do you want me to take you out?” I asked. Looking me in the eye, Andrew said “Let me try, I think I got this coach.’ The next batter was Mo, from before, and Andrew’s first pitch nailed him square in the head. I returned to the mound, and Andrew handing me the baseball said “I didn’t have it, coach. I am sorry, I got ahead of myself.”
I motioned to Evan, who walked up and took the ball. I said, “Just throw strikes and try to not kill anyone!” He nodded and managed to get out of the inning with only a few runs going against us. The next few innings we fell further behind, I used up all my regular pitchers. The last of the rotation was Julio, who was still afraid of the ball but was begging me to let him pitch. I looked at him and said, “What the hell, it can’t get any worse.” Julio faced just two batters in the 6th and final inning. His first pitch somehow hit him in the back of the head during his wind up and bounced towards 3rd base. After finally getting the ball to the plate, Julio never threw a strike, his final pitch was crushed into rightfield where Tony would normally be. As the ball bounced into the rightfield corner, Tony wasn’t there. “Where the hell is Tony?” I yelled as the bases cleared and Andrew ran from center to retrieve the ball. Then, Tony appeared, emerging from the porta-potty situated just behind the rightfield wall.
After that bases clearing grand slam, Julio immediately walked off the mound and into the dugout to pout. The problem was I had not pulled him or replaced him yet. So, I looked at my roster, and realized the only player left I could pitch was Simon. He had never pitched before, but I was in a bind and honestly, I didn’t care anymore. I called him to the mound, handed him the ball and said, “Look man, just do your best not to hit anyone and we will get out of here alive.” He nodded, then faced his first batter, to which he hit immediately in the hip. Two batters later the bases were once again loaded. Simon had also been changing his windup each batter, ending with a move reminiscent of the crane kick from The Karate Kid.
I went back out to the mound, knowing due to the “mercy rule”, if they scored one more run, the game and the season were over. I got to the mound, Simon looked up at me, “Coach, I am in a bad spot.” I said “What are we going to do? You’re our last pitcher?” Simon bit his lip, thought hard and shrugged, “Beats the hell out of me, coach. We’re fucked!” I laughed, “Hey, I feel you there but watch the language, okay. Here is the deal, Simon. You can get the next three batters out, which we both know isn’t going to happen, or do your best. If this next guy gets on, the game is over. We go for ice cream and that’s that.” Simon nodded and said, “I got it, don’t worry coach.” The next batter got up, Simon wound up, and hit him in the shoulder. The runners advanced, the game ended, and we lost. It was over. Simon walked up to me, winked, and said “That shit was easy. Let’s go get some ice cream.” So, we packed up our gear, gave a final after game coaches speech, and proceeded to stuff our faces at the local dairy queen.
I fall in love with afterthoughts and the names in playbills. Cast and crew. Nuts and bolts. Backstage busted non-union smoke breaks. Fuck. That’s good. Write it down. Have you cried for a smile that you never saw? A mirage. A dial tone fantasy. The best love never gets to that point. It scorches the earth then moves on. Forever is a badly cooked steak. Chewy and familiar. Paid for with coupons. The conventional version anyway. Soul mate synergy is more of a matrix of hearts. We love in spurts. As Richard Hell would say. Intimacy and multiplicity. Culture crushes called connections. Religious orders. Fast food faithful. One on one with a mirror between. We are wasted on our own selfish wine. I know love isn’t marriage’s possession. I’ve known that agreement. It’s just a subcontracted. Under god or the courts. Love is free. Birds singing duets on multiple wires. Wave length lovers. Moment to moment. Electricity is okay for mass consumption. Live more. Love bigger. Love in ways that defy sheltered norms. Kiss the moon. Kiss me too. Hugs are not deadly. Just infectious. Anyway, I’m going to bed.
Love poems are shit.
Shit. Love. Pray.
Or, was it, Eat Love Shit?
Either way. Struggle.
Ghosting. Window pane
Window into pain.
Ice forms on glass, crackling.
Winters are cold here.
Smoke. ignite. Dissolve
My hands turn red, then blue.
Snow fell. I was falling. Star
Smoke rings into square pegs, ashtray eyes.
She held the cigarette like dart. Aiming it. Bullseye.
The sycamores were full of birds. Song birds. Love birds.
The soup was cold. Served white bowl diner.
Smoke rings. She made them perfect. Open mouth, lipstick cool. Puff…
I rested, coffee tired. Eyes dark circle, vulture.
Death in a vinyl booth. She smiled.
Staring hazy cloud. Eggs Benedict. 3am sleepless.
She blew smoke rings. Round pegs. Ashtray eyes.
Match sticks, vulnerable, struck heat. No more.
He dared me.
Party, after party. Drunk.
Gay. Not me. Maybe?
Never sure. Never cared.
That was a kiss. So what?
Laughter, we followed
with whispered. Maybe?
Then New York. Magnetic.
Over and out.
Never again. Only a kiss.
No regret. Philadelphia was my courage. Orange bike.
She. Beautiful, brown.
Stronger than aware.
My heart scraping
sidewalk gum. Sneakers
She was smiling.
Acting. Poet. Proud.
We were different. Same
White. Me. Nervous.
Brown. Her. Hesitant
Lips, soft. We were free
We stopped. Summer,
overheated. Modern lovers.
Radiator cool. She Was.
Crushing pills, formica
Cold cuts. Tender touch
Rolled twenties. Credit card, chop, dice, tap.
Nose burns, tears swell.
Corduroy jacket, sweaty pants. Break the bone.
Slit wrist bath tub gin.
Blood orange, blue moon
Call me. Dawn. Call me.
High school, wretched memory, Fuck
Grated my skin to bits. Parmesan ghost.
Priestly garb, clerical collar, choking victims.
Student body, body shaming, phobias.
Catholic cross crusted Christ. Nailed, bullied.
Fuck the nostalgia.
My classmates were cruel. They are. Repression.
When you try to die
it becomes a lifestyle
Blood letting us just
in letting everyone down
Death trades us in
and artists that matter
I’m a man
If that makes you happy
I can’t agree fully
I don’t know what I am
A crumbled newspaper
I’m gutter gum sticky
White, sure, but filthy
All constructed bullshit
You have made me what you wish
I just don’t give a shit
Artwork – Identity 2019
May 3rd was the 100th anniversary of Pete Seeger’s birth. This is a poem I wrote about him a few years ago.
You sang about the unions
You spoke to those in need
Carried a banjo on your back
Picking when you needed to sing
From the Hudson valley
To the western shoreline
Telling stories about the heartland
A friend to all you met along way
Even those who wanted to destroy you
Your songs were hymns of reconciliation
In groups the harmonies rang true
Alone you gently got em to sing along
Freedom chants and peaceful protests
Just a smile for the working man
The woods were your happy country
The rivers made you feel alive
On top of mountains a yodel carried
Down on the street you spoke to the young
Years of love for music and peace
For rights and for things to change
When you died we mourned a hero
More so we just sang the anthems of the day
I ate a Tom Waits record
A1 and ketchup
Picked it up biting down
It was chewy crunch vinyl
Trying to taste the pain
Savor the songwriting
Sharp edges cut my inner cheek
Blood filled old holes
where teeth grew
I squished it into my left side
Chipmunk pouch-like juicy
Afraid to swallow the metallic taste
I felt the chunks of albums
Ripping my stomach to shreds
I spit the blood in the sink
Looking in the mirror I saw my age
No longer teen queen
No longer twenties two tone
Not even dirty thirty
I was grey and cold
Salt and pepper poetic
Lyric lacerating inner self
I ate a Tom Waits record
He had written Burroughs several letters in the early nineties, receiving a few responses. Gary had been flirting with the notion of being a writer since he was young, reading constantly and banging away on his mother’s 1954 Royal typewriter.
Obsessed at a young age with books, Gary was enthralled by the magic of Salinger and Hemingway but it was when his youthful eyes engulfed Kerouac, it was the beats became his passion. One day a neighbor was having a yard sake and there was a beat up copy of Naked Lunch, which he gobbled up like a starving dog. Burroughs became his favorite, over all else, and unlike his other idols, he was still alive.
Gary would write his letters with a reckless energy that was raw and full of adolescent hope. It must of touched a nerve as he received responses from his idol, even an invitation. So in the summer of 1993 Gary traveled on his own On The Road journey, and stopped in Lawrence, Kansas.
Burroughs, an old man, was a gracious host and very eccentric of course. They smoked weed, talked writing and politics then even sat in silence. As it got late, Gary felt he should go but William wasn’t pushing him away, in fact it seemed perhaps he was hoping the young man would stay. Though perhaps it was all in Gary’s head?
After his journey, Gary told me all about his meeting with his idol. A Burroughs fan myself, I was full of jealous excitement. He told me “Ya know I think he wanted to fuck me or something?” I said “You should have! It’s William Burroughs, man! Just fuck the old man and there’s your story!l” we laughed but inside we both knew I was right.