Poetry News

Charles Simic Remembers the Fourth of July, 1963

By Harriet Staff

In the summer of 1963, Charles Simic was on an Army ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. He and his fellow soldiers passed the time playing poker, sunbathing, and marking their progress to New York City on a map. Today on The New York Review of Books blog, Simic recalls a small mutiny when the soldiers learned that they might not make it to shore in time for Independence Day:

The buzz that went around, and which pissed everybody off, was that the Navy was waiting for the Fourth of July weekend to be over so they didn’t have to pay longshoremen overtime to unload the ship. Whatever the reason was, as we drifted offshore for one more day, anarchy broke out on the ship. It began with a bunch of soldiers cutting the pants of their uniforms above the knees, turning them into shorts and parading like that naked to the waist.

Others who were about to be discharged took up the challenge. They started throwing their army clothes overboard. Less shit to carry was the explanation. A colonel came around threatening mass court martials upon debarkation, but nobody paid attention to him, except for me. I threw my stuff into the sea at night. In the bright moonlight I caught a glimpse of my long johns riding the waves and my boots bobbing and sinking.

Read more of Simic’s thoughts on the military and New York City on the NYRB blog.

Originally Published: July 3rd, 2012