When it rains warm in spring in Normandy,
the tourists head for Bayeux, and the quaint tapestry
of William the Conqueror's men
slaughtering the upstart Harold in the olden days.
The WW II vets, widows or cousins trudge off to find
Uncle William's grave or maybe Davy's six-point star
that blends so well with small white crosses of equal height.
Where they fell — Omaha, Utah, or other beaches —
I don't ask, knowing it won't change a thing.
How big the cemeteries: battalions
of heroes and scared and decent kids.
They knew why, which is more than anyone can do today.
It can rain warm in the towns of Normandy
with red-cheeked girls and kids in gingham.
The apple scent of pastry drifts everywhere as we wait
for the rain to end or the bus to come.
In the cafes, old farmers are shooting back
coffee with apple brandy though it's only ten a.m.
Their cheeks are pink, their eyes determined.
They talk of farm subsidies and soccer,
ordering another Calvados for the coffee:
that apple brandy sings its own song, and
the old timers look it respectfully in the eye.
In the orchards bossies stand waiting, all fattening roundness
under the brown sky, the air damp with mist.
They cannot be ignored. Their flesh,
like that of an insatiable mistress, must be squeezed,
the cream and milk sent their proper way.
The green slopes are for apple trees and grazing,
so much rain, so many apples, serious work and butterfat.
A few German bunkers jut out atop the hill,
before the slopes drop down to the beach.
Here and there a left-over cannon
like the odd piece of a kid's soldier game
from that old war. That old war.
You peer into the bunker — no Germans looking out —
just bottle shards, spider webs and graffiti on the wall
remain of those terrible days hard to imagine now.
But it was real enough for the Jerries, looking out some morning
to see the pontoons, the guys, the wildflying waves,
the water turning red, the bodies falling before they got to shore.
It's real enough today, uncountable rows of cemetery markers.
I met an old GI looking lost, and said "Hi, soldier!"
He smiled proudly as my eyes lingered over
the medals and ribbons on his chest.
He'd left the wife upstairs to catch a little shut-eye,
and came down to reconnoiter the last time for himself.
He was glad someone took an interest
in how it was back then in his sad and glory days.
We took a window table in a cafe in the main square.
"I don't suppose they'd have Cornflakes here,"
he said plaintively. "I've got to watch my diet."
"Maybe not, I'm sure they'll have some toast,"
I answered, "Anyway, I'll ask."
I went to the owner and explained about the old soldier.
"Ah, Monsieur..." and of course he's got Cornflakes,
even Quakers, nowadays, les Américains, les kids ...
and he shrugs his shoulders with an ironic smile.
Outside old vets congregate for the ceremony
under the warm drizzle of a cloudy sky.
I envied them. For them it all had a meaning,
and they were lucky enough to be there to say what.
That's how it was one rainy spring day in Normandy
when some things made sense, and others not.