By Karl Shapiro
In today’s congested society, automobile accidents are an often sight that most people don’t even blink an eye at. During the time of World War II, I am almost positive that even the slightest accident would turn heads considering the level of technological advancement in the automotive and medical fields were nowhere near where they are today. In his poem Auto Wreck, Shapiro has taken a personal experience from some point in his own life, and has described it for us. This poem is very highly organized into sections by what is going on in the accident scene.
The first stanza of this poem is very descriptive of an ambulance coming to the rescue of crash victims, just as an angel is said to come for the recently deceased. The soft silver bell beating could be related to either the ambulance or the angel, however we do not usually think of an ambulance as being soft. The silver bells remind me of the Christmas carol, Silver Bells, which speaks of angels in its text. Shapiro however only mentions the bells, as in the angels, once. Shapiro is extremely good at creating images in are heads with lines like, The ambulance at top speed floating down past beacons and illuminated clocks, which I see as the ambulance speeding through a lit up commercial area with glowing signs and billboards, and other such things found on the side of a busy road. Once the ambulance reaches the scene of the accident, the doors leap open releasing a light of hope upon the mangled. These victims, like in the movies are quickly placed on the stretchers and put in the back of the ambulance. Shapiro calls the ambulance a little hospital trying to show their importance in aiding the wounded. Lifting the silence, tolls the bell as the ambulance with its terrible cargo rocking, moves away, as the doors, an afterthought, are closed. This line is not only showing how quick the medics are working, but also their level of concentration and order of priorities. Because of their movement in the back of the ambulance they do not even think to close the doors until the little hospital is already moving.
As the Ambulance moves away from the scene with the severely injured, the uninjured or minimally injured people walk among the cops, Shapiro states, describing every action that the police are taking. One police officer is making notes, one is cleaning blood, and one is hanging lights on the wrecked sheet metal that was once a recognizable automobile. Shapiro refers to the mangled cars as empty husks of locust, to iron poles, which as you know, locust leave a perfect shell of their body whey they die, which can crumble into many pieces. As there are at many accident sites, bystanders are looking onto this gruesome scene. They cannot believe what they are seeing and yet, cannot seem to leave. In this third stanza, as the traffic slowly moves around this accident, I can picture every head turning to gawk at the scene in awe of its sick beauty, just as people do today. As every one looks on, their greatest fear is if it ever happened to me? We all think that, no matter what the case may be. Shapiro has recognized certain reaction patterns of society with this poem and jumbled them all together and put them on paper, along with the most common societal horror, an auto wreck.
Shapiro questions death, as to who dies next and for what reason. He looks for a type of meaning for death; stating War is done by the hands, which I think, involves a level of intent. Suicide he says has cause, and still birth is logical because a stillborn baby would have had a terrible life of disease or disfiguration. Jumping back to the car accident, Shapiro implies fate or just a freak accident.
He spends the last stanza looking for some sort of resolution to his curiosity about death, but does not succeed. He creates a magnificent type of imagery, which played in my mind like a famous movie. He also used a level of symbolism uncommon to myself, and a spiritual deepness that almost makes you want to cry. This poem is not just about a mere car accident, but about certain death which we all face one way or another for one reason or another. However, as Shapiro reminds us of the unspoken question, Who is innocent?