War Stories

Harvey Shapiro--American

 

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


War Stories

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.


 

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