Gene and Lewis Turco at a family wedding.
When I was five years of age my brother, Gene, was born in Meriden, Connecticut. His middle name is "Laurent" — the male version of "Laura," my mother’s middle name, just as my first name is “Lewis,” the English version of “Luigi,” and my middle name is “Putnam,” my mother’s maiden name. It was many years before I realized the derivation of "Gene": it is the American version of "Gino," which is short for "Luigi" — my father had named both his sons after himself! In my second collection of poems, a chapbook titled The Sketches of Lewis Turco and Livevil: A Mask (1962), I wrote about our childhood:
"Ragtail Gene, don't tag along here;
scram on home or I'll bop your nose."
Brother, come the first of April,
that was the word the second of May
and all you heard when our lead pipe cannon
swallowed a cherry bomb and belched a stone
that boomed across the Fourth of July,
nearly crocking you where you hid
to spy on all the older kids.
If the world grew huger in your eyes,
that was because they went wide
to hear the clubhouse secrets told
in the dark garage where gasoline
smelled about good enough to swill.
For, the first you knew of going,
you knew because we swore our raft
was not a raft, but a ship to float
a boy's body out of sight
and a man's voice too deep for sounding.
That's the way that I am going;
ragtail Gene, don't tag along here.
When I was in the eighth grade my father sent me off to Suffield Academy in Suffield, Connecticut. He told me that he was doing it to give me the best education he could, but he evidently told my brother that he sent me away to save Gene's life. I don't recollect that I was all that homicidal toward my sibling. The worst thing I remember doing was tying him to the porch of the parsonage on Windsor Avenue when I was supposed to be baby-sitting him. I wanted to play with my neighborhood buddies instead, and I knew he was safe because I could hear him yelling.
One weekend while I was in the Navy and Gene was in high school I came back on liberty to Meriden and discovered that he had gotten himself into some sort of trouble. Papa and Mom May talked to me about it in distress, and I think I must have become angry, because I wrote “The Hustle”:
Listen to Lewis Turco read his poem, "The Hustle."
O your eyes are slightly wondered,
They allow the world's been sundered,
So you travel with your brothers:
Not the flesh-and-blood kind — others
Who deplore the ways of fathers,
Man! you're mean.
There are rods and there are women,
You're a rebel, you're a demon,
You were spawned beneath the atom
On a lower social stratum.
People stink, and so you hate 'em,
Bile and spleen.
What's a lifetime's secret essence,
Is it kooky adolescence,
Is it ninety miles per hour,
Is it acting beat and dour,
Or professionally sour?
Cool the scene.
We will halve the world and share it,
Call half minah, call half parrot,
In our monstrous aviaries
We will ostracize canaries...,
Any bird that sings or varies
Then we'll blow the whole bit higher,
Than the sun shoots tongues of fire,
For commitment's too much trouble;
Prick the big dream like a bubble.
You can be the final rebel,
It was very strange, it seemed to me, that Gene had gotten into a scrape because he was, and still is, a very nice guy. He had never been a minute’s trouble all his childhood, to my recollection, except that he was accident-prone. Strange things happened to him: once he walked through the smoke of a bonfire — in those days one could burn leaves in the fall — and came down with a case of poison-ivy all over his body. Another time he and some of his friends were playing with a BB gun and he was shot in the eye which split his cornea. For most of our lives we have gotten along pretty well, our wives like each other, and our kids all get along on those few occasions when they get together. The poem is an over-reach, over-the-top. Reading it now, it seems to me that I was writing about the 1950s, not my brother.
Jean and I had graduated from Meriden High in 1952. Two or three years later rock-n-roll had arrived, the new teen-agers were acting quite strangely, wearing d. a. hairdos (that’s “duck’s ass” in case anyone wonders) and developing the culture that would eventually lead to American Graffiti, Hair, James Dean’s Rebel without a Cause and the Beatniks. My wife and I had grown up in the post-World War II culture, where the last days of swing and bebop and bobbysox were fading into the unsettling and ominous future.
The poem ttled "Gene" is from Fearful Pleasures: The Complete Poems of Lewis Turco 1959-2007, Scottsdale, AZ: www.StarCloudPress.com, 2007. ISBN 978-1-932842-19-7, cloth; ISBN 978-1-932842-20-3, paper; an e-book edition was published in 2013.
"The Hustle" may be found in The Collected Lyrics of Lewis Turco / Wesli Court 1953-2004, Scottsdale, AZ: www.StarCloudPress.com, 2004, 460 pp., ISBN 1-932842-00-4, jacketed cloth, $49.95; ISBN 1-932842-01-2, trade paperback.