As soon as he woke up he remembered the last thing that had happened before he lost consciousness. He had been sitting in his favorite chair in front of the television set watching the evening news. His wife had been sitting on the sofa watching as well in the parlor of their second-floor flat in the house that they had bought late in their lives and marriage. The news wasn’t good — was it ever? — but he and his wife were comfortable for the first time in their lives, and had been for several years of his retirement as pastor of the First Italian Baptist Church. They had lived in this small Connecticut city since 1939; their children had grown up and gone, gotten married themselves, one lived nearby — a toolmaker for Pratt & Whitney, the other in upstate New York — a college professor. The professor, the older boy, was the one he’d wanted to be a minister too, but that was not to be.
He remembered the sudden sharp pain in his chest, falling forward out of his chair, hitting the floor and then nothing until he had awakened.
No, that wasn’t right. He awoke, and still there was nothing.
There was no light, if he had eyes, only darkness. He saw nothing, he felt nothing, if he had fingers to feel with; he heard nothing — there was nothing to hear or, apparently, with which to hear. He could not breathe, nor did he need to even had there been something to breathe. He did not understand how he was able to think, if he were, indeed, thinking.
He lay awhile (was he “lying”?) attempting to do the things he remembered he used to do. He tried to shout, but he could make no sound, couldn’t have heard it if he had made one, had no mouth with which to utter anything. All he could do was recollect, feel as though he were going mad, experience despair and frustration for — how long?
The conclusion he reached was inevitable and inescapable: he had died in his parlor while watching the evening news on NBC. Until that moment he had been certain that when he died something would happen. He would awaken to the Life Beyond. He would be ushered into the Presence of his Maker. Glory would abound. Something certainly would happen, not nothing. It was impossible for Nothing to happen! Or, if it did, it would be impossible for him to experience it. He would simply be nothing.
Or had the ancient Greeks gotten it right? Was this Erebus? Was this the pure darkness of Tartarus, of the Underworld where the lost souls go to “live” in emptiness, without hope? When he was a boy living in Sicily, which the Greeks had colonized centuries before his own people, the Turks, had conquered that island, he had from time to time heard snippets and shards of Greek mythology. He had heard about Erebus and wondered about it.
And as a member of an unobserving Roman Catholic family, long before his conversion to Waldensian Protestantism, he had wondered about Purgatory. Had the Church adopted the Greeks’ Erebus, as they had adopted so many other things from paganism, like holidays and saints? Was this, then, Purgatory, which would prove that his concept of the afterlife had been erroneous, and his life, consequently, had been useless? What there was left of him, here, in this all-consuming darkness, despaired.
Would there be no end to this nothingness? Would there be no union with the Godhead, no reunions with those he had left behind, those who had preceded him? He tried to put out feelers, tentacles from his mind to test the blankness engulfing him. He felt that he would go mad, that he would like to go mad because he could not bear this soulless emptiness any longer. And how long had it been? It felt as though it had been eternal.
He could not believe it when he woke up again. But had he awakened? What was all this light?
The American TERZANELLE is a villanelle written in terza rima. Like the latter, it is nineteen lines in length: five interlockingtriplets plus a concluding quatrain in which the first and third lines of triplet one reappear as refrains. The center line of each triplet is a repeton reappearing as the last line of the succeeding triplet with the exception of the center line of the penultimate stanza which reappears in the quatrain. This is the rhyme and refrain scheme for the triplets: A1BA2 bCB cDC dED eFE. The poem may end in one of two ways: fA1FA2or fFA1A2. Every line is the same metrical length.
"I hate my name," Gladys told him after three drinks at the singles bar where they had just met. She was blonde and he was breathing hard, but it was clear that all she wanted to do was talk. They were all like that with him — at least the pretty ones.
"I'll find you the perfect new name," Mike said, "one that will suit your personality to a T." He took off his glasses to wipe the steam from them. The light was blue in the bar, and that was the way he felt.
"How?" Gladys was beginning to appear interested. She twiddled the swizzle stick in her drink and lifted her gaze from his paunch to his eyes.
"On the main frame parallel computers at Megatronics! I'm a programmer. But this is going to take some time and research," he said, trying to veil the glint of hope in his eyes. "I'll have to ask you some questions. Don't worry!" he hastened to say further, "It won't be much worse than joining a computer match club." In the pause that followed Mike could almost hear the tension that sizzled above the tables and booths of The Blue Martinis Lounge.
"You promise?" she asked at last.
Mike nodded his head so hard that drops of perspiration fell from his forehead onto the bar counter. He moved his arm as unobtrusively as he could to wipe them up with his sleeve. "When I've found you the perfect name you can have your old one changed legally."
"Okay. What do you want to know?"
Mike pulled out the pad and mechanical pencil he always carried, and he took notes until the wee hours. They finished just as the Lounge and Gladys' eyes were closing. "Drive you home?" he asked.
"No, thanks. I'll grab a cab." She picked up her purse and teetered to her feet. She gestured to the barkeep who reached for the phone.
"Well, how about we meet here in a week, next Friday? I ought to be done by then." She nodded vaguely. Mike hoped she would remember.
Over the rest of the weekend, and during all his spare time the rest of the week, Mike worked fiendishly on the program. It was as though he were inspired, under a spell — he had never worked better.
"I'd give anything to make this work," he muttered over and over under his breath as his pencil sped over the paper and his fingers poked at the keyboard. Mr. Harris, his boss, seemed impressed by his newly-found industry.
When Mike was done writing the program he fed every fact and statistic of Gladys' life into the company machine. In return the computer eventually came up with the perfect new name: "Laborna." Mike hoped like the devil that she would be grateful.
It turned out she was more than that, for when he met her at The Blue Martinis and pronounced the syllables of her new name she went stare-eyed, entranced. That weekend she did everything Mike asked — everything. With a passion. At her place.
It wasn't long before Mike realized he had discovered Gladys' Secret Name, and that the program he had written had made him her absolute master. "For Heaven's sake!" he said. "I wonder if it would work on any of the other girls."
He began to collect information from the personnel files at the company. It took a lot of overtime, but that looked good to Mr. Harris. When Mike had finished, he began to feed the data into the machine. Soon he had computed the Secret Name of every secretary in his department. And in every case all he had to do was to pronounce the appropriate syllables to make each of them his love slave.
All the heavy activity, both physical and mental, took its toll. While he was on sick leave Mike began to realize what a fool he'd been, though, to tell the truth, it had been worth it. He had enjoyed to the hilt the turnabout in the way the men at the office regarded him. Mike had gone in a stroke from wimp to superstud.
Nobody could understand it. Mike had basked for weeks in the envious and malicious stares of his fellow toilers as he walked among the desks with their flickering screens and humming printers.
It was only after he'd computed the Secret Name of Mr. Harris and received two quick and furiously discussed promotions that it began to dawn on Mike that he'd been frittering away the greatest discovery in the history of mankind. He thought that if word got out about his program — which Mike could not allow — he would receive the Nobel Prize. "In fact," he said to himself, "I'll make sure I get it anyway."
When he was back on his feet he began to proceed carefully and methodically with a plan he'd worked out in the hospital. Soon he was well on his way to ruling the world.
One day Mike was sitting in the Oval Office of the White House considering his next move. He'd been ruling the world for quite a while, but it still felt very good. He enjoyed the feeling of plush under his feet, the silent movements of the servants, the shine of the brass on the shoulders of the guards at the door. All this was too fine to lose, so Mike spent a great deal of time considering and reconsidering what he had to do to keep things going smoothly. He knew he had plenty of enemies who were waiting and looking for his weak spot. It was very annoying. It distracted him from his pleasure.
"Great bleeding Beelzebub!" he cried suddenly, overwhelmed by his blindness. "Defense!" How was it he hadn't thought of it before? It wasn't possible to control every individual in the world, so he ruled by controlling key people. "But what if someone from somewhere comes up with my own program? He could counter my power by discovering my Secret Name! I don't even know what it is myself!"
Even as he breathed the words Mike headed for the computer room trailing a double-timing cordon of colonels and generals behind him down the elegant White House corridors.
Into the machine — top of the line — Mike fed every fact and statistic of his being. Not even pausing to wipe the fog from his lenses, he pushed the Return key. Out of the printer there issued a single word, a name. Mike stared at it for a moment, then he cried, with wonder ringing in his voice, "Lafnot!"
Immediately there appeared before him in a cloud of fire a demon conjured by the syllables he had uttered. Mike gasped, "Well, I'll be damned!"
Jean Ross Justice, Don's widow, sent us her new book, "Family Feeling, A Novella & Five Stories," which arrived today inscribed, "For Lew and Jean, friends of so many years, with love." Don's former students still miss him deeply, and we feel blessed still to have Jean with us and writing. I sat down to begin reading the title novella immediately. What a fine writer Jean is, so skillful in the art of fiction. The book is published by Prairie Lights Books of Iowa City, distributed by the University of Iowa Press. From the back cover:
"Jean Ross Justice’s Family Feeling, a novella and collection of stories, is a moving portrait of American domestic life of the last half-century. Often spanning generations, the stories are defined by subtle shifts in both family relationships and the ways in which we reconfigure them in memory and mind.
"Many of the stories revolve around end-of-life scenes. An elderly man is visited by his middle-aged son’s young second wife and child, whom the son has temporarily abandoned in order to tend to his dying ex-wife. A recently widowed woman faces a complicated relationship with a troubled home health-care worker who had been uncommonly kind to her dying husband. Four middle-aged siblings reconvene in their childhood home to attend to the death of their father and find themselves simultaneously children of, and parents to, their own parents.
"The unobtrusive historical breadth of the stories is remarkable. Reflecting back to Depression-era southern America from the perspective of the early twenty-first century, the characters provide us with an intimate view of the changing cultural landscape of our country. Issues of class are not merely ideological here—they are fluid and intricate aspects of fate and of soul.
"Justice’s prose is characterized by quiet humor and attention to gesture. The deeply self-reflective and self-contained narrators offer us a window into issues of aging and mortality that is real and rare. In the manner of Alice Munro or William Trevor, Jean Ross Justice’s thought-driven fiction centers on pivotal moments of action or conversation that haunt—or reverberate—for decades."
Today my cousin-in-law Gary Getchell posted this on his Facebook page:
“BOHICA? I'm behind the times! I just learned of this acronym, but I plan to put it to good use. For those as out-of-touch as I was BOHICA stands for "Bend over. Here it comes again!" What a quick, great way to respond to the stuff that keeps spewing out of our politicians' mouths,” and this is my response.
I have read your online article about Russell Atkins [see elsewhere in this blog]. I just thought I'd let you know that four of us in NE OH have managed to locate him in a nursing home --accused of dementia, but I gotta say, a LOT more with it than a lot of the folks who put him there. I am a poet who knew Russell from the CSU and PLGC workshops when I last lived here, back in the 1980s, and was sorry to see how he has been shuffled around. So two of his former Karamu students, another former Cleveland poet, Bob McDonough (who now lives near Ithaca), and I have taken up visiting Russell; I've been taking pumpkin pie and banana bread, talking to him, and, with the other three, making plans to pressure the staff to take care of some of his concerns (like get his phone working).
Bcause I knew him and used to give him rides home and liked him, because he is a poet, and because he has the same name and birthyear as my dad, I have just felt it incumbent upon me to make these days of his life better than they have been. He happened to mention to me (apropos my mentioning my dad's birthday) that his birthday is Feb. 28th (one day from my dad's!!). So Bob and the two former students are planning a small party for him on that Friday. If you would be willing to send a card or call with greetings, please email me, and I will send you info on how to do that.
I have photocopied your article for him to read. He remembered you fondly. No matter what they say about his memory, he remembers every poet he ever met, even me, who only gave him rides and hadn't seen him for 30 years.
We have a party set up at the nursing home on Thursday, Feb. 27th for his 88th birthday. (Russell has approved and put in his favorite cake request.) Birthday cards can be sent to
The Grand Pavilion
24613 Broadway Avenue
Oakwood Village, OH 44145
Thanks SO much, Lewis. I visited him twice this week. One of his old friends has found a copy of one of his operas and of Free Lance, and he is looking forward to next week. We're supposed to have a HIGH of 12 degrees that day, so we will hope to make it warm inside.
It [the birthday party’ was a smash! In the middle of yet another Ohio winter blast, 15 people made it in from West Virginia, NY, and the wildest ride, Cleveland. I think Russell was touched by the care after months of being alone and unknown. His newly appointed guardian showed up for a nanosecond, and the staff stopped in. Russell loved getting caffeinated coffee (two large cups), and the cake, from an old bakery in my hometown, was what he ordered (vanilla cake with chocolate frosting--chocolate Fudge. mmmm.) People recited a few of his poems, a few spoke informally but movingly about his influence. (John Donoghue spoke beautifully on that.)
Now we hope to move on to literary issues, and then I would like to have a second event AWAY from the nursing home that would focus on his work, various poets in town reading it for him and to him.
But I am also caring for my own father, trying to get my own writing done. I have just been nominated to read at the 2016 poetry festival in Nicaragua and am working with a translator on my latest book of poems. And blogging.
I attach a photo of all the guys at the party. (The women were in a second photo shoot: Bruscella Jordan, me, Zena Zipporah, and Sharan: writers all, as were the guys). They are (Back, l to r:) John Donoghue, Norman Jordan, Bob Donoghue (who initiated the search for Russell), Mustafwa Shaheed (one of Russell's former students), John Stickney, Yaseen (the other former student, both of whom found and visited Russell first) and (front l to r): Fahar, a student currently at CCC, Russell, and Yaya.
I know Russell got your mail. He had been reading birthday wishes, which came before we arrived, and when I asked him if he wanted to read the cards that people brought to the party, he said, "No, I like to read them in my room alone."
"Ah, recollect them in tranquility?" I responded.
"Very Wordsworthian, Diane," he responded right quickly. "I never cared much for him. But he did get off a few good lines."
"And is that one of them?" I asked.
"It is." I am not so sure he always felt that way, but now, with some more pleasant things to recollect, he seems to enjoy the tranquility. He sometimes forgets and repeats recent things, like my father who has a certain amount of dementia. But he is far from Alzheimer's or personality loss. Everyone appreciated his quick wit and memory, and his calling on us to remember places, people. A good afternoon. Thanks for asking.
Back, l to r: John Donoghue, Norman Jordan, Bob Donoghue, Mustafwa Shaheed, John Stickney, Yaseen AsSami; front l to r: Faheem Khabeer, Russell, Yaya.
Bruscella Jordan, Diane Kendig, Zena Zipporah, and Sharan Paul.
Another fine poem chosen this week by Maine Poet Laureate Wesley McNair:
Take Heart: A Conversation in Poetry: Thousand Dollar Thumbs
Edited and introduced by Wesley McNair, Maine Poet Laureate
This week’s unusual love poem by Robin Merrill of Madison features a pair of damaged thumbs. Though the poem looks back on a happy marriage, Robin writes that she gave it to her husband after just one date. “That took more courage than I’ve felt since,” she says. “But new love makes us crazy brave, right?”
Thousand Dollar Thumbs by Robin Merrill
You cut the left one off with a table saw.
Good doctor sewed it back on. Called you lucky.
Next summer, the right one got gobbled up
by a bear trap. Took twenty stitches to repair it.
Driving home, your father coined the pair:
your thousand dollar thumbs. I didn’t know
these stories the first time I felt them,
left one bigger than it should be and crooked.
right one shrunken and hard as a knot,
scarred up like maps my fingers followed.
Ugly and perfect, your thumbs traced out my spine.
Callous caress so extraordinary, call me lucky.
Now our grandkids hang off them, unaware of their history.
Now morning’s clumsy thumbs fumble shirt buttons.
But I am here to help you. Call us both lucky.
This is my 10-year-old granddaughter Phoebe reading a poem I wrote for her. The other day she decided she was going to disprove the existence of the Tooth Fairy. She took her loose tooth out on the sly (apparently) and put it under her pillow without telling anyone about it. The next morning she announced, "The Tooth Fairy doesn't exist!" Phoebe was minus a dollar, but her family was nonplussed, which was what she wanted.
A while earlier, she had written a story which I read. It sounded an awful lot like the fantasies I started writing at about her age, but I never wrote an ending as good as hers, which I think is great:
As a scientist, Phoebe has devised a successful experiment to disprove the existence of the Tooth Fairy; as a writer, she has devised a story ending that is symbolically wholly adult, and she is an artist as well -- the top image is hers:
Needless to say, I am amazed by Phoebe's talents, and I'm as proud of her as I can be.
As soon as I graduated from Meriden High School in 1952 I joined the Navy for two main reasons: Because I was eligible for the draft (the Korean War was going on), and I was sick of going to school and having other people tell me what I had to study. Even if I had wanted to go to college at that point in my life I couldn’t afford it, so I volunteered for the armed service to get the G. I. Bill eventually. I could have put in less time if I had joined the Army, but I didn’t want to spend any time at all crawling around in the mud, so I joined the Navy.
This turned out to be a wonderful idea because the Navy taught me how to touch-type, made me a Yeoman – a clerk – rather than a deck hand, shipped me around the country and then, aboard the aircraft carrier Hornet, around the world, quite literally. My friends all were attending college, but I was engaged in the Grand Tour.
In port Yeomen have lots to do, but at sea there is little to keep them busy, so I spent an amazing amount of time taking correspondence courses in fiction writing and journalism, in reading poetry and 100 classic books (there was a fine library aboard), and teaching myself all about the craft of versewriting. I began sending my work out to the little magazines, and I began to publish in 1953, one year after high school.
In 1956 I was released from active duty and just before I entered the University of Connecticut as a sophomore (I had done enough work in the service to have earned advanced placement), I had my first poem accepted by a major literary magazine, The Sewanee Review, which published it in 1959, the year I graduated from UConn and went for grad school out to the Writers’ Workshop of the University of Iowa. This was the poem (listen to Lewis Turco read his poem) "At Home"
Wesli Court Self-Interview Wesli Court is interviewed by Lewis Turco about his new collection titled The Gathering of the Elders and Other Poems.
Traveler's Moon Photograph by Adel Gorgy
Three Poems “Domestic Duties Scorecard,” “Leftover Shakespearean Gnomes,” "Tsunami Strait."
The Virginia Quarterly Review "The Mutable Past," a memoir collected in FANTASEERS, A BOOK OF MEMORIES by Lewis Turco of growing up in the 1950s in Meriden, Connecticut, (Scotsdale AZ: Star Cloud Press, 2005).
The Tower Journal Two short stories, "The Demon in the Tree" and "The Substitute Wife," in the spring 2009 issue of Tower Journal.
The Tower Journal Memoir, “Pookah, The Greatest Cat in the History of the World,” Spring-Summer 2010.
The Michigan Quarterly Review This is the first terzanelle ever published, in "The Michigan Quarterly Review" in 1965. It has been gathered in THE COLLECTED LYRICS OF LEWIS TURCO/WESLI COURT, 1953-2004 (www.StarCloudPress.com).
The Gawain Poet An essay on the putative medieval author of "Gawain and the Green Knight" in the summer 2010 issue of Per Contra.
Fenn College - School of Arts & Sciences Lewis Turco's first creative writing class, with Loring Williams (left) and James L. Weil (right): the beginning of The Cleveland State University Poetry Center