Edward Field(1924- )
Born into a musical family, Field played cello with the Field Family Trio in his early life. Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1924, Field served in Europe during World War II with the 8th Air Force as a navigator in heavy bombers. It was during the war that he began to write poetry. His first book, Stand UP, Friend, With Me, won the Lamont Award. He received a Lambda Award for Counting Myself Lucky. He won an Academy Award for the documentary film, To be Alive, for his writing of the narration. He edited the anthology, A Geography of Poets. His literary memoirs, The Man Who Would Marry Susan Sontag, and Other Intimate Literary Portraits of the Bohemian Era, was published in 2005. A new collection of poems, After the Fall, Poems Old and New, is scheduled to published in 2008.
World War II
It was midwinter and the waves were mountains
and the water ice water.
You could live in it twenty-five minutes
the Ditching Survival Manual said.
Since most of the crew were squeezed on my raft
I had to stay in the water hanging on.
My raft? It was their raft, they got there first so they would live.
Twenty-five minutes I had.
Live, live, I said to myself.
You've got to live.
There looked like plenty of room on the raft
from where I was and I said so
but they said no.
When I figured the twenty-five minutes were about up
and I was getting numb,
I said I couldn't hold on anymore,
and a little rat-faced boy from Alabama, one of the gunners,
got into the icy water in my place,
and I got on the raft in his.
He insisted on taking off his flying clothes
which was probably his downfall because even wet clothes are protection,
and then worked hard, kicking with his legs, and we all paddled,
to get to the other raft
and tie them together.
The gunner got in the raft with the pilot
and lay in the wet.
Shortly after, the pilot started gurgling green foam from his mouth
maybe he was injured in the crash against the instruments
and by the time we were rescued,
he and the little gunner were both dead.
That boy who took my place in the water
who died instead of me
I don't remember his name even.
It was like those who survived the death camps
by letting others go into the ovens in their place.
It was him or me, and I made up my mind to live.
I'm a good swimmer,
but I didn't swim off in that scary sea
looking for the radio operator when he was washed away.
I suppose, then, once and for all,
I chose to live rather than be a hero, as I still do today,
although at that time I believed in being heroic, in saving the world,
even if, when opportunity knocked,
I instinctively chose survival.
As evening fell the waves calmed down
and we spotted a boat, not far off, and signaled with a flare gun,
hoping it was English not German.
The only two who cried on being found
were me and a boy from Boston, a gunner.
The rest of the crew kept straight faces.