For Greta Zimmer Friedman
This is no fairy tale.
You, America, wrote my story,
shoved it into my mouth
like a tongue tinged with whisky.
Times Square. 1945.
An All-American girl,
a nurse, white and clean,
a patient Penelope, submissive, serene,
gets swept away in passion by a kiss.
The truth: I was a dental assistant.
I was a Jewish refugee
who made a life for herself
in a foreign country across an ocean.
My feet sweat inside those Oxfords.
My hands ached. I longed for my family
back in Austria, locked away
in concentration camps.
So when the news of victory
filled these New York streets,
joy welled in my heart.
Times Square lit up in jubilation
when a man plucked me
from the gathering crowd
as if I were a blooming Edelweiss,
and planted his lips on mine.
It wasn’t a romantic event.
It wasn’t my choice to be kissed,
To be grabbed, to be uprooted,
to feel the heat of his tongue,
to be captured by the lens of history,
me, a symbol of America,
of unconditional surrender
to the joy of victory, but I understood
the catharsis. I felt it in my heart, too,
as that sailor loosened his grip,
and disappeared into to the crowd.
Today, I’m a silent statue.
I wear the red paint, #MeToo,
on my shapely calf.
Know these legs are so much more than pretty.
Know I was a living human being,
warm with life and filled with memories
that clash against your view of history.
Know I had desires all my own.
Sailor In Iconic V-J Day Times Square Kiss Photo Laid To Rest In Rhode Island [CBS]
Interview with Greta Zimmer Friedman [Veterans History Project]
WWII’s most iconic kiss wasn’t romantic — it was terrifying [Washington Post]
Katherine Hoerth is the author of three poetry collections, including Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots, which won the Helen C. Smith Prize for the best book of poetry in Texas in 2015. She is an Assistant Professor of English at Lamar University and serves as Editor-in-Chief of Lamar University Literary Press.