A Memory Poem by Mary Sampas (2001)

Memory of an Afternoon

Hot humid Manhattan afternoon.
Broadway’s din is ear splittingly loud.
Suddenly, from somewhere on high,
as though from heaven,
a hugely amplified voice booms
that all traffic must now stop.
The first hospital ship is in, the voice says,
and it’s carrying the first wounded
from D-Day.
Ambulances are to cross Broadway
en route to a hospital in Brooklyn.

The silence is complete, and eerie.
Cars stop.
People stop.
Some whisper prayerfully.

Some bless themselves.
Some weep.The long convoy begins.
The ambulances are olive drab trucks,
covered, but with open backs.
A chill strikes from within,
banishing the heat and humidity,
and we shiver.

The tension is intense as broken bodies
pass by us in those trucks,
but we can’t see them.
We can only imagine.

And now we feel wild waves on a black beach
and hear shells bursting and see bombs dropping.
We hear the screaming
and taste the blood
and feel the awful pain.

After the 20th truck passes us,
the total silence is pierced
by a hoarse but joyful cry:
“Hello, hello, Sampascoopies!

“We are stunned, but it is already too late.
That ambulance is quickly succeeded
by another, and another.

We gasp that some wounded lad,
back in his country,
sees a familiar face as he is borne to the hospital.

My husband described
this incredibly moving moment
in his column,
hoping to hear news of the wounded man
from his family
or anyone who knew him.

He sounded so happy
that one fleeting moment,
to see someone from home,
but we never found out
who he was, and if he lived
or if he died. 

—Mary Sampas (c) 2001

Reprinted from The Bridge Review: Merrimack Valley Culture