The morning wind rattles the windowpanes
and over the barracks reveille rings out.
Dreams come now, bad dreams, and teenage boys
burrow into their pillows. Now the lamp
that glowed at midnight seems, like a bloodshot eye,
to throb and throw a red stain on the room;
balked by the stubborn body’s weight, the soul
mimics the lamplight’s struggles with the dawn.
Like a face in tears—the tears effaced by wind—
the air is tremulous with escaping things,
and Man is tired of writing, Woman of love.
Here and there, chimneys begin to smoke.
Whores, mouths gaping, eyelids gray as ash,
sleep on their feet, leaning against the walls,
and beggar-women, hunched over sagging breasts,
blow on burning sticks, then on their hands.
Now the hungry feel the cold the worst,
and women in labor suffer the sharpest pains;
now, like a sob cut short by a clot of blood,
a rooster crows somewhere; a sea of mist
swirls around the buildings; in the Hotel-Dieu
the dying breathe their last, while the debauched,
spent by their exertions, sleep alone.
Shivering dawn, in a wisp of pink and green,
totters slowly across the empty Seine,
and dingy Paris—old drudge rubbing its eyes—
picks up its tools to begin another day.