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Troops Ascending the Beach Called Omaha

ISSUE:  Spring 1945

Something more clinging than the mud
Slows the ascent.
Files reach To the farthest turning of the road
And more wait on the beach.
With steps which sometimes slip, men climb
Past the first monuments—
An enemy helmet in the slime,
The foxholes and wet tents,
A smashed pillbox, a splintered house,
The raw clay and the graves.
A climber fumbles in his blouse,
Looks back at the Channel waves,
Over more ships than he will count.
And lights his cigarette.
He thinks hard as the slow lines mount,
Trying not to forget
Just how his wife looked and his child,
And last things seen at home.
In the strange fields the day is wild;
Below, the coastlines foam.
Here is the anticipated shore,
The land not new to us,
But by our dead of another war
Made known yet fabulous.
They go toward the imagined wood,
Remembering names of earth
Made famous by their fathers’ blood.
The first awed groups move forth
Through villages where, the broken wall
And silence show the way.
There is no word that would say all
That I should like to say
Of comfort to them as we pass;
I can only smile, as though
That said: “This is the kind of place
Where men who come may go—
Enter one day, return another;
And here, with different speech,
Are women, patient, like your mother.”
So I would try to reach,
Even in passing, some green boy,
Whom a few months will give
The killing edge which wars employ
Or not leave still alive.
I cannot comfort them nor bless,
Seeing, as I descend,
Companies almost numberless
Moving from the land’s end
Upward in slow, deliberate lines.
There is a kind of peace—
The dedicated spirit shines
In the uplifted face
To which, from love,
I speak good-bye.
Coastward my pathway runs;
Theirs inland toward tracered sky
And the thump of heavy guns.


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