“CHILDHOOD” by Howard Winn

 

When I was twelve,

I did not think much concerning the Island Continent

I had had to learn about in sixth grade Geography,

except it was where the British

banished criminals who came back

to the English shores as heroes I admired

for a Dickens’ novel and was part of the pink

pieces of the map that illustrated 

the scope of the empire.

Dickens always did have a soft spot

for the underclass struggling 

and suffering punishment for not being

one of the English swells with a personal

horse and carriage, butler and footmen. 

Then suddenly I was eighteen and struggling

to keep B-29s aloft over Tinian, Saipan, Okinawa,

and eventually Japan,

flying over the Western Pacific.

And yet what was Australia to me

by then, but the source of ancient mutton

shipped by slow freighter to feed the forces,

the enlisted men marooned on those little islands,

stewed to an unrecognizable state

by Army Air Corps cooks and the sun, 

meat and men alike. 

Both bearable until one learned that

actual lamb chops, tender and succulent,

went to the officers’ mess.

What would Dickens have made of this?

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