Behind the lintel of the Lion Gate,

swallows had built their nest. Two Mirage jets,

burning Nato dollars, buzzed the valley.

A sweatstained, overweight American

squatted in the shade of the ashlar ramparts,

fanning himself with a bush hat. “Hey, which

pile of stones is this?” A veteran’s pension

kept him in exile. His mom and dad

had once stood arm-in-arm with that eager,

cropped marine recruit, who was altogether now

someone else. Thanksgiving and each birthday,

he would call collect. “This is the country

to screw up with your folks!”… He lies in the bunker,

smoking a joint. The black sergeant plays Hendrix

on his new Hitachi. From six miles

up the valley, NVA artillery

blow their minds… Parts of his skull were wired

like a broken vase. On the tourist bus,

his compatriots avoided him.

He smelt of despair, was a friend, a son,

brother missing in firefields of tattered

flags. Survivor’s guilt confounds. How he longed

to talk of Khe Sanh, how often spoke of

America! Swallows dipped above him,

under the gate. He did not look at them.


Note: this piece has been subsequently published in ‘A Jar of Sticklebacks’ –




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  1. #1 by Alan Horne - September 14th, 2015 at 19:30

    I found myself trying to skate over this, I think because it evokes something (someone) both repellent and pitiable – the smell of despair if you like – so vividly. Yet it stuck in my mind. It seems to be done so carefully but with a minimum of sentimentality. The links to the Vietnam war took me back to a now neglected era, I had to look up the NVA and Khe Sanh, so I learned something too.

  2. #2 by David Selzer - September 16th, 2015 at 16:57

    Neglected era is absolutely right – certainly in the history free zones of some western governments. After the Vietnam debacle, who would have anticipated the interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria…

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