Lewis Turco

Song of the Mower: The Memoir of a Navy Buddy

On 18 July 2009 Fields Book Store in San Francisco wrote me this email message: "Dear Mr. Turco, We have a copy of Day After History we'd like to send you, which has some personal letters of yours. I couldn't find a current email address for you. Please email us…or call us…for further information.”

I replied, "…Thank you very much for getting in touch with me. I think it's fascinating that you have a copy of Day After History. It's the first one that has ever shown up so far as I know. It was a collection of my very early poetry which I put together and, as I recall, [hecto]graphed while I was a yeoman in the Navy working at the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Arlington, Virginia. I had twelve copies of it bound by a bookbinder in D. C., and I gave them to friends just before I was discharged in 1956.

“No doubt the letters that accompany it were sent to one of the friends to whom I gave a copy. I don't own one of the original copies myself…. I will be happy to trade you a signed cloth copy of my latest book of poems, Fearful Pleasures: The Complete Poems 1959-2007."

I had assumed that the person in question might have been my classmate at Meriden [CT] High School in 1949-52, George Lallos, whose last known whereabouts had been San Francisco. I thought he must be deceased, as some of us had speculated at our last class get-together in 2009 for our “75th Class of 1952 Birthday Bash.”

When I received the book, however, I discovered that I had been wrong in my speculation, for it had been owned not by George but by one of my barracks-mates in Arlington, Frank — Francis T. Rath — whose home, which I had visited, had been located in Lake Ronkonkoma, Long Island.

There was, in fact, only one letter from me to Frank included with the book — another letter was an unsigned, undated, unaddressed, typewritten letter to Frank from his mother who had perhaps included it when she forwarded my missive to him.

My own letter was likewise typewritten and unaddressed (presumably sent to Lake Ronkonkoma), but it was datelined Fenn College, Cleveland, Ohio, 10 November 1961. In it I wrote Frank that, “I’d very much appreciate it if you’d consider sending me one of the two copies you own, either on loan or as a gift.”

Frank never replied, to the best of my recall, nor did he ever get in touch with me again. However, included with the book I received from Fields, besides the two letters there was an untitled poem that Frank had written in a college class, “English 53,” on “25 April 1959”:

When seeing bridesmaids gliding altarward,
And glowing bride enjoined with moist-palmed groom,
I see a vision of the afterward:
Of cabbage vapors in a diapered room,
Of poker hours gone to in-law guests,
Of children crayon-armed, bursting from clothes,
Who grow from squalling brats to screaming pests,
Of favorite dishes smiling hubby loathes,
Of monster grass, that grows, and grows, and grows,
Of bulbs burned out, sinks plugged, TVs gone blank,
Of mowers, rakes, paint, nails, weeds, garden hose,
Eternal payments to a hungry bank.
Thus in a church to reverie I fly,
And sigh, and say, “There, but for me, go I.”

Frank didn’t come to my wedding back in 1956, a couple of weeks before I was discharged from the Navy, and I have no idea what became of him other than that he lived in San Francisco at some point. The only other thing I know about him for certain is that he obviously read the first poem in Day After History:


I’ve mowed my lawn for seven years,
And seven years times seven.
Each time the grass has grown again,
And I've come nearer heaven.
Someday the grass will grow on me:
My clay will keep it growing,
And someone else, for seven years
Times seven, will be mowing.

Copyright  © 2009 Lewis Turco


Lewis Turco (right) receiving from Dana Gioia the Fitzgerald Prosody Award at the West Chester (Pennsylvania) University Poetry Conference, “Exploring Form and Narrative,”  Friday, June 6, 2008.


Lewis Turco, is the author of The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics.  His book The Museum of Ordinary People and Other Stories was published last
year by www.StarCloudPress.com and reviewed on-line in www.PerContra.net. He is also author of The Book of Dialogue: How to Write Effective Conversation
in Fiction,
etc., www.UPNE.com, 2004, a new edition and expansion of
Dialogue, Writer's Digest Books, 1989. His stories can currently be found
on-line at www.PerContra.net and  www.nightsandweekends.com. His latest book, Satan’s Scourge: A Narrative of the Age of Witchcraft in England and New
England 1580-1697
, has just been published from Star Cloud.