La Chapelle. 92nd Division. Ted.

(September, 1918)

This lonely beautiful word
                                                means church
and it is quiet here; the stone
walls curve
                        like slow water.
When we arrived the people were already gone,
green shutters latched and stoops swept clean.
A cow lowed through the village,
pushing into our gloves her huge
sodden jaw.

It’s Sunday and I’m standing
on the bitter ridge of France, overlooking the war.
La Guerre is asleep. This morning early
on patrol we slipped down through
the mist and scent of burning woodchips
(somewhere someone was warm)
                                                            into Moyenmoutier,
cloister of flushed brick and a little river
braiding its dark hair.

Back home in Louisiana the earth is red,
but it suckles you until you can sing
yourself grown.
                                    Here, even the wind has edges.
Drizzle splintered around us; we stood
on the arched bridge and thought
for a moment of the dead we had left
behind in the valley, in the terrible noise.

But I’m not sad—on the way back
through the twigs I glimpsed
in a broken windowbox by the roadside
stunned lavenders and pinks
dusted with soot.
                                                I am a little like them,
rough curls open to the rain.

“La Chapelle. 92nd Division. Ted.,” from Collected Poems 1974–2004, W. W. Norton, 2016. Originally published in American Smooth, W. W. Norton, 2004. Used with permission of the author.