AT HOME: A POEMOIR
Even if I had wanted to go to college after I graduated from Meriden (CT) High School in 1952, at that point in my life I couldn’t afford it. Furthermore, I was tired of going to school and having other people tell me what I had to study. I was eligible for the draft (the Korean War was going on), and, although I could have put in less time if I had joined the Army, 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 verse writing. 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, began graduate study there and then, first, spent part of the summer at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, New York, and subsequently went to finish my graduate school work in the Writers’ Workshop of the University of Iowa. This was the poem:
Listen to Lewis Turco read his poem “At Home”:
I. None have come with silver,
none have come
with loud huzzahs to plight my flame
or paint my eyes
with fame’s delight.
Nor are there many who
to nod my being or to wave my fact
along a voiceless street,
much less descend my slope and meet me there
where bottoms end.
For who are you, my faceless,
who are you
that they should come?
II. In the mirror there is glass,
and behind the glass
lies a river of mercury, frozen
against the bathroom wall.
Between the glass and the quicksilver
no longer quick, there is nothing:
no flesh, no frame, no bone
hung with eye, lip, hair.
There is no beard,
not even a bristle.
Outside the bathroom window there is morning,
and a bristling tree
scraping the wind.
III. Within this house are a thousand things
singing with use, swearing
a thousand vows quietly
that someone lives here, someone wears
that sock, warps
that chair, twists that knob —
but the phone rings, the phone
is ringing, shrilling the house apart,
halting the walls that press forward while
no one answers, no one answers,
no one goes to the phone
cursng to answer.
IV. I live here.
My face is not in the mirror,
my foot is not in the sock, my hand
does not haul the phone to my ear,
and my voice
carries no weight from my lips
to the telephone, to the wires
that hum along the roadways out
into the world that does not wait
for any sound I might make.
I am not to be found,
though I live here.
V. Among the wool, among
the hung frames and the dusty shoes,
the desk lumpy with papers and the lamps
gone black with burning,
let them come to find me, let them come,
if they will, to unbury me,
with or without silver, plus
or minus praise,
happy with folly or squinting
Only let them come: the mirror
is in need of a beard, the phone
wants a voice.
And a sock is not a sock without a foot
to belly it, and a shoe
to harry it to holes.
From The Sewanee Review, lxvii:4, 1959.