A river of men comes to Rouen
with its twisted timbers.
Crossing the Seine they gather
in the market place for inspection.
Joan was burned here: a martyr
for a town already ample with its dead.
The armies are building kitchens
to feed themselves. All night
the streets are lit from bakery doors,
the cobbles florid and shining.
When black death stole into the houses
the bones lay thigh-deep all winter.
Trains pull out of the station groaning,
laded with bread, field dressings,
young men still half sick from drink.
The loaves sit shaking in racks
as the wagons rattle into a forest,
its pools and spores circling.
Rouen was a major supply centre during the First World War and had several base hospitals.