My father’s story had come to haunt me by the time he was living in the house he and my mother had bought on South Avenue in Meriden after years of moving from one neighborhood to another, looking for an ever-cheaper rent in the last years of the Great Depression and during the Second World War. But the house in which I remember both of them best was the parsonage. We moved into it when I was in junior high school, before I went to Suffield Academy in Suffield, Connecticut, for the eighth and ninth grades. After years of planning and saving, the church had bought it, and for a while we had some feeling of physical location, a point of reference and a neighborhood.
One of the features of the house was the room I called the “sun-porch,” though it was really merely an extension of the house that overlooked the driveway and the set of garages that the church rented out to neighbors who had no garages of their own. I had my aquaria set up there, and my father had his study behind some bookcases he used as a room divider. I would sit there for hours sometimes, musing into the aquaria, following the movements of my neon tetras, black mollies, and gouramis among the valisneria and swordplants. Sometimes my dad would be in his portion of the room reading, contemplating, writing his sermons. I would hear him moving quietly or tapping on his typewriter. For years after I had left the family for the Navy, marriage, college, I would dream of that room, the black angelfish swimming in the air. I have tried many times to write of it, in a story, and again in this poem:
I seek my father — that minister
of the deep — among the furniture
of my childhood. I step out of waking
into this room and know
that time has passed. The windows are webbed
and moonstreaked. A lamp with a glass shade,
green and saffron, burns
on a brass stem. The bookcases hold sermons
and silence. My aquaria
stand among tumbled
tomes and testaments. The dust rises
into the amber darkness.
I disturb a desert of hours,
search for the fish that glide
in musty waters — blue scales
glint under my glance,
their eyes are corals budding
among rusty blades of sea grass
and swordplants. I remove the glass lids
and dip my hand into the water —
it is what I have feared:
shadow of a shadow, dim air
flowing from corner to corner.
The fish rise along the curtains
to swim about me in the air,
their black fins wavering.
I dig in the gravel stranded
among the shelving,
the decaying books. I dig,
and here, in the root
of the largest plant, blooming
from a socket of bone, I find my father
where he has scuttled,
at last to be brought back, smiling.
After I had finished this poem I thought that I had exorcised the dream, which was unsettling, though not a nightmare. I was wrong. The obsession continued, and continues to this day, more than forty years after my father’s death. My sleeping mind keeps trying to resurrect him, though he would be well over a hundred years old now.
Listen to Lewis Turco read his poem The Recurring Dream