My last communication with him was only weeks ago. With his
characteristic generosity, he had said that "An Old Rakes Prayer at Easter
at Ballina" from my forthingcoming collection "A Homecoming in the
Next Parish Over" was "right up there with Yeats' "John
Kinsella''s Lament," etc. and that from what he had seen of the book, it
was going to be "One Hell of a Collection." I wanted so much to get
that book to him before he died. He had an Irishman's weakness for humor, which
allowed the know nothings to dismiss him as a "light" poet, but he
also wrote some of the most profound poetry of our time.
anything wrong with Joe Kennedy! I've been writing a series called
"Epitaphs for the Poets" and posting them on my blog for a year, and
they get sent over to Facebook as well. I posted these same epitaphs for Joe
last year on his birthday. You've upset everybody who knows Joe. I'm amazed you
didn't know about my series. Everybody else does.
Well, I'd rather know I made a fool of myself and Joe's alive
than the other way around.
Phew -- almost freaked me out! Glad to hear X.J. is OK. (And,
BTW, he'll be one of the poets whose appearance on Poet to Poet we're digitally
re-mastering, and posting on YouTube in a few weeks, along with some of the
other shows, from the years -- 1993 to 2001 -- we were on the air on Manhattan
Cable, and other cable affiliates around the country. We're launching the
series on the 'net in just a couple of weeks. I'll keep you all posted.) And
Lewis -- "Kennedy" / "threnody" was a brilliant rhyme!
Maybe if I'm lucky, you'll do an "epitaph" for me someday, even if
I'm not as fabulous as X.J.!
wasn't exactly War of the Worlds.
Many, many thanks for clearing up the Kerrigan mystery, and for
letting him know I'm still alive! I'll keep cherishing your deft epitaphs,
and just might leave orders to chisel one onto my tombstone when I've really
gone and kicked off.
As the son of the minister of the First Italian Baptist Church of Meriden, Connecticut, needless to say “the church” loomed exceedingly
large in my life. If we as a family were poor, and we were, so was the parish.
As a result, I had not only to attend Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, the
weekly sermon — at least the one in English, for my father preached two
services, one in Italian as well — and sing in the choir when I was old enough,
I also had to mow the big lawn in the summertime and shovel the walks in
winter. Eventually, when papa could no longer find a volunteer parishioner to
do the job, I became the official janitor for the church, and that meant that I
got paid a pittance for doing everything a janitor does. If my father had
realized what one of my tasks led to, he would have fallen to his knees and
begged the Lord to forgive him.
In the basement it is cool
among the tables, the small chairs,
the folding screens and crayons.
The lavatory is damp, the water runs;
there is room for webs and fables.
The wooden stair ascends and turns
into heat settled among the pews.
The altar rises above the golden oak
which dark juice has stained.
Frayed wine runs down the center aisle
away from the electric keys,
the hymnals with the broken covers.
Summer lies upon the step before the door,
beneath the white clapboards,
the pictures peeling from the glass.
The gate of pipe and wire stands ajar.
Next door the parsonage is scaled to dolls.
It takes the corner,
facing another neighborhood.
Six garages stand by a gravel drive.
A pear tree withers there, and on the curb
an elm like a cathedral stays alive.
Being both a Baptist and an Italian posed certain
insoluble dilemmas for my father, but not for my Methodist mother. Both denominations
eschewed alcohol, including wine, but wine is a staple for Italians. At home
there was never a problem, because neither of my parents drank at all. However,
if there were a wedding at which my father officiated, at the reception
following he was expected to lead a toast to the bride and groom, and everyone
was supposed to make the toast with real wine.
I remember once when my mother publicly belabored
my father at a reception for drinking a sip of the toasting liquid. My mother
had no tact at all. With the parishioners and guests looking on, a public
dust-up took place between May and Luigi of the sort that they, my brother
Gene, and I were very well used to, but my father was humiliated, and that’s
not too strong a word. He was enraged. The wedding party was appalled,
primarily with mother.
Early on Communion Sunday mornings I would go out
the back door of the parsonage, walk a few steps, go into the side door of the
church, down a few steps, and into the basement where the kitchen was located.
I had to cut up a loaf of Wonder Bread into cubes, put them on trays, and fill
the little communion wine glasses not with wine, but with grape juice; then I
had to carry the trays of bread and juice upstairs and place them on the
communion table for the ushers to distribute. The parishioners would take bread
and “wine” from the trays the ushers passed around, and then place the used
glasses into the cup holders on the backs of the pews.
Afterward I had to collect the cups again, place
them into the trays, and when I got back to the kitchen I had to separate those
that had been unused and remained untouched in the trays. Then, using a funnel,
I poured the untouched grape juice back into the bottles which, as I recall,
were not refrigerated, though I may be wrong about that. I was not above
sampling some of the little glasses instead of frugally saving their contents
for the next month’s communion.
One day while I was sipping a few my head began to
feel odd, sort of dizzy and muzzy. I picked up one of the bottles and held it
up to the light. I noticed that there was something in the bottom of the
bottle, something fuzzy, sort of, a bit like furry marbles. I sniffed the open
neck — it still smelled like grape juice, but there was another element besides
grape, a sort of robust body with an autumn finish and overtones of spice.
I staggered back to the parsonage and probably went
to the room I shared with my brother. I don’t believe I alerted my father to
the situation with the weird grape juice because, as I recollect, I did the
same thing more than once. On the other hand, I don’t remember that this
particular chore of mine lasted very long. If I had to give odds, I’d bet that
my ever-vigilant mother finally caught on. Once, when I was a man, she got
after me for carrying Bay Rum around with me in my travel kit. I had the Devil
of a time convincing her that Bay Rum is an after-shave lotion.
“The church” first
appeared in La Fusta and was
anthologized and reprinted with an Italian translation by Ferdinando Alfonsi in
Poeti Italo-Americani / Italo-American Poets, edited by Ferdinando Alfonsi, Catanzaro, Italy:
Antonio Carello Editore, 1985. It was collected in Fearful
Pleasures: The Complete Poems of Lewis Turco 1959-2007, www.StarCloudPress.com, 2007, ISBN 978-1-932842-19-5, jacketed cloth, $49.95; ISBN
978-1-932842-20-3, trade paperback, $32.95, 640 pages. ORDER FROMAMAZON.COM.
Both the poem and accompanying essay appear in La Famiglia / The Family,
Memoirs, by Lewis Turco, New York:
Bordighera Press, 2009, ISBN 978-1-59954-006-1, trade paperback, 196 pp.,
$12.00. ORDER FROM AMAZON.
Newt Gingrich said that Nazis don't have the right to advertise near the Holocaust Museum in DC. Of course they do! I used to belong to the ACLU until they sanctioned the Nazi march in Skokie. They were right to do so, but I hated it.
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.