Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

BREST LEFT BEHIND, by                     Poet's Biography
First Line: The sun strikes gold the dirty street
Last Line: "I don't see very many tears,"" he says."
Subject(s): Holidays; Homecoming; Peace; Veterans Day; World War I; First World War

THE sun strikes gold the dirty street,
The band blares, the drums insist,
And brown legs twinkle and muscles twist --
Pound! -- Pound! -- the rhythmic feet.
The laughing street-boys shout,
And a couple of hags come out
To grin and bob and clap.
Stiff rusty black their dresses,
And crispy white their Breton cap,
Prim on white, smooth tresses.

Wait! ... Wait! ... While dun clouds droop
Over the sunlit docks,
Over the wet gray rocks
And mast of steamer and sloop,
And the old squat towers,
Damp gray and mossy brown,
Where lovely Ann looked down
And dreamed rich dreams through long luxurious hours.

Sudden and swift, it rains!
Familiar, fogging, gray;
It blots the sky away
And cuts the face with biting little pains.
We grunt and poke shoes free of muddy cakes,
Watching them messing out
Upon the dock in thick brown lakes --
"No more French mud!" the sergeant cries,
And someone swears, and someone sighs,
And the neat squads swing about.

Silent the looming hulk above --
No camouflage this time --
She's white and tan and black!
Hurry, bend, climb,
Push forward, stagger back!
How clean the wide deck seems,
The bunks, how trim;
And, oh, the musty smell of ships!
Faces are set and grim,
Thinking of months, this hope was pain;
And eyes are full of dreams,
And gay little tunes come springing to the lips --
Home, home, again, again!

She's moving now,
Across the prow
The dusk-soft harbor bursts
Into a shivering bloom of light
From warehouse, warship, transport, tramp,
And countless little bobbing masts
Each flouts the night
With eager boastful lamp --
Bright now, now dimmer, dimmer,
Fewer and fewer glimmer.
Only the lights that mark the passing shore,
Lofty and lonely star the gray --
Then are no more.
We are alone with dusk and creamy spray.

The captain coughs, remembering the rain.
The major coughs remembering the mud.
Some shudder at the horror of dark blood,
Or wine-wet kisses, lewd.
Some sigh, remembering new loves and farewell pain.
Some smile, remembering old loves to be renewed.
Silent, we stare across the deepening night.
France vanishing! -- Swift, swift, the curling waves --
Fights and despair,
And faces fair;
Proud heads held high
For Victory;
And flags above friends' graves.

The group buzzes, rustles, hums,
Then stiffens as the colonel comes,
A burly figure in the mellow light,
With haughty, kingly ways.
He does not scan the night,
Nor hissing spray that flies,
But his cold old glance plays
Along the level of our eyes.

"I don't see very many tears," he says.

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