Poem of the Month, January 2021

The Poem of the month for January 2021 is “Kent,” by David Westheimer.

During World War II, David Westheimer was a navigator on B-24 bombers; his unit was based in North Africa. His aircraft was shot down while on a bombing mission off the coast of Italy. He became a prisoner of war, first of the Italians and then of the Germans when the Italians surrendered. This poem was written about the co-pilot of his crew, who died when their B-24 crashed into the water.

Kent

You would be eighty now, as I am,
If you had not died at twenty-five,
Crushed by the armor plate
Behind your co-pilot’s seat
When we hit the water
Off the rocky coast of Italy.
I wonder, would you still
Smoke your pipe and dip into
Three books at once
And smile rarely but magically?
True, you remain forever young but I think
You would rather be eighty,
Even, like me, walking with a cane
And wearing thick bifocals
And being young and handsome
Only in memory, you whose memories
Ended when you were but twenty-five.

From The Great Wounded Bird and other poems, published by Texas Review Press in 2000.

David Westheimer wrote the popular novel Von Ryan’s Express, which was made into a movie starring Frank Sinatra. He also wrote a non-fiction account of his POW experience, Sitting It Out. Every time I drive past Westheimer Boulevard in Houston, Texas, his home town, I think of him.

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