Harvey Shapiro is editor of the Poets of World War II, an American Poets Project of the Library of America, released in 2003. A poet in his own right, he is the author of thirteen books of poetry, including National Cold Storage CompanySelected Poems (1997) and How Charlie Shavers Died and Other Poems (2001). In Sights along the Harbor, Shapiro evokes the rich heritage of his Jewish culture and his love for New York. Shapiro was a radio gunner during World War II and flew 35 missions and was decorated for service. He spent many years as the editor of The New York Times Book ReviewThe New York Times Magazine. While in the military, Shapiro spent a good amount of time reading and writing and began his career as a poet. (1988), and
These are a conquered people,
said the British sergeant,
putting his hand on my shoulder
at the bar in Foggia, Italy—
this is 1944. He was instructing
me on why I should not tip
the Italian barmaid, as I was doing.
A conquered people. I liked the phrase
because it had the ring of history,
suggested dynasty policy, put
British empire with the Roman
down the long reach of time.
But in the real world it made
no sense. How did it apply
to the Italian kids who came
to my tent each morning to trade
eggs for cigarettes. Or to the old
Italian lady in town who was teaching
me the language. Or to the girl
in the Air Force rest camp on Capri
I fell in love with Christmas week.
They were hardly a people, much less
conquered. They were living
as I lived, on the bare edge of existence,
hoping to survive the interminable war.
But high above their cities
on my way to Germany to kill the enemy
I was part of that sergeant's fictive world,
part of the bloody story of our century.