I Dreamed That in a City Dark as Paris

I dreamed that in a city dark as Paris   
I stood alone in a deserted square.   
The night was trembling with a violet   
Expectancy. At the far edge it moved   
And rumbled; on that flickering horizon   
The guns were pumping color in the sky.

There was the Front. But I was lonely here,   
Left behind, abandoned by the army.   
The empty city and the empty square   
Was my inhabitation, my unrest.   
The helmet with its vestige of a crest,   
The rifle in my hands, long out of date,   
The belt I wore, the trailing overcoat   
And hobnail boots, were those of a poilu.   
I was the man, as awkward as a bear.

Over the rooftops where cathedrals loomed   
In speaking majesty, two aeroplanes
Forlorn as birds, appeared. Then growing large,   
The German Taube and the Nieuport Scout,
They chased each other tumbling through the sky,   
Till one streamed down on fire to the earth.

These wars have been so great, they are forgotten   
Like the Egyptian dynasts. My confrere   
In whose thick boots I stood, were you amazed   
To wander through my brain four decades later   
As I have wandered in a dream through yours?

The violence of waking life disrupts
The order of our death. Strange dreams occur,   
For dreams are licensed as they never were.

Louis Simpson, “I Dreamed that in a City Dark as Paris” from The Owner of the House: New Collected Poems 1940-2001. Copyright © 2003 by Louis Simpson. Reprinted with the permission of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.
Source: Collected Poems (BOA Editions Ltd., 1988)
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