Trees in the old days used to stand And shape a shady lane Where lovers wandered hand in hand Who came from Carentan. This was the shining green canal Where we came two by two Walking at combat-interval. Such trees we never knew. The day was early June, the ground Was soft and bright with dew. Far away the guns did sound, But here the sky was blue. The sky was blue, but there a smoke Hung still above the sea Where the ships together spoke To towns we could not see. Could you have seen us through a glass You would have said a walk Of farmers out to turn the grass, Each with his own hay-fork. The watchers in their leopard suits Waited till it was time, And aimed between the belt and boot And let the barrel climb. I must lie down at once, there is A hammer at my knee. And call it death or cowardice, Don't count again on me. Everything's all right, Mother, Everyone gets the same At one time or another. It's all in the game. I never strolled, nor ever shall, Down such a leafy lane. I never drank in a canal, Nor ever shall again. There is a whistling in the leaves And it is not the wind, The twigs are falling from the knives That cut men to the ground. Tell me, Master-Sergeant, The way to turn and shoot. But the Sergeant's silent That taught me how to do it. O Captain, show us quickly Our place upon the map. But the Captain's sickly And taking a long nap. Lieutenant, what's my duty, My place in the platoon? He too's a sleeping beauty, Charmed by that strange tune. Carentan O Carentan Before we met with you We never yet had lost a man Or known what death could do.
From Collected Poems by Louis Simpson, published by Paragon House, 1988. Copyright © 1988 by Louis Simpson. All rights reserved. Used with permission. (Originally published in The Arrivistes: Poems 1940-1949, Fine Editions Press, 1949.)