Rue de Rivoli – "It's you! Assassin! Mon frère! 
Ah, we were but children when we joined the Legion,
marching from Algiers under Rollet – 'Honneur et Fidélité,' eh?
You, brave flower, fighting like a tiger in the alleyways,
and me, bragging open brothel doors.
The Devil or God (And which is which, in the desert?)
a coward when we blindfolded him,
rag carnation in his mouth,
we shot him with our Berthiers,
bolt-actions genuflecting in the sun.
Did we sin? We were fools!
We ate our bitter hearts out in that desert,
boiled our souls with thorns and thickets.
Riders with wind and sand rasping between our saddles and thighs…
Oh the melody they make – say it! Sirocco!
Now, over there, to your left, Diguet and his Montagnards
who gave so much blood at Tuyên Quang,
'Français par le sang versé.'
Now I merely puzzle the streets of Paris,
a toad who buries himself in cafes.
You say you garden now? Shadows of songbirds
against the barn, netting and dressing them
for your pies.
Here! Violets for your dear wife. Tomorrow it will rain.
Treat your blindness with care. Adieu!"

For Shay’s Word Garden and The Sunday Muse

25 thoughts on “Veteran

  1. A tip of the kepi for this poem about these freres de la guerre. It’s quite immersive and I can just see these two old fellows trying to get by, years after their service. It makes me want to watch Beau Geste!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I tried to incorporate all 20 of Shay’s Stephen Crane list words, and all seven of the TSM images. If the result was seamless enough that wasn’t noticeable, then I’m pretty happy! Admittedly there are a few fairly attenuated links to the images – “bolt actions genuflecting” vs. the image of the child’s hand raised, which in earlier drafts I used the word “hand” but made the flow of that line clunky. Hopefully “brothel doors” is a little easier, if you look back down the image list. I think the rest should be fairly tractable if someone cared to keep score – tiger, blindfold, flower/mouth, birds, rider. But hey, I certainly don’t expect (or even want!) anyone to try and figure any of that out. The entire point for me is always to produce something that reads stand-alone, outside the prompts. I always try to write as if the reader has no knowledge whatsoever of “the prompt.” Of course, for folks who come to the poem from the prompt site, they will always have that specific context. What can one do? LOL! Hope all of that makes sense and not TMI…


        1. LOL! No, not really. We all just write the way we write. I didn’t set out in any way with a goal. More just discovered as I went that it was coming together. The images from TSM and the words from Shay creating opportunities along the way.


  2. This feels like something I would have seen years ago, watching TV with my mom; something both vivid and referring to things I didn’t yet understand. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a novel of a poem–and how the sense of history it carries falls so perfectly in the lines. Really immersive, as Shay says, and a glimpse of something period that is still potent and alive today in that ‘brothers in arms’ way that great trials faced together bring people. “The Devil or God (And which is which, in the desert?” or in poetry, as Crane might himself say. I never look for prompts when I read, I just am glad for what they spark for poets like you to give us in your words.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. After “‘Français par le sang versé,” “Now I merely puzzle the streets of Paris,/a toad who buries himself in cafes.”
    If there’s one line that blew me away, (they all did), it’s this one. The legionnaire “home” from the blood-spilt desert becomes this, and the “blindness” remains.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “Ah, we were but children” ~ I attended the premier of a play written by a local Bendite yesterday. Married at 19 to a young man who shipped off to Vietnam shortly after the wedding, a helicopter pilot. Shot down 200 days after arriving in country. The play is her story, about her return to Vietnam in 2016 to the place he died, about PTSD, about the vets’ struggle to integrate back among Americans who hated every single aspect of that War. Which made your poem all the more difficult to read this morning.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is so vivid and brilliant, qbit. Full of haunting images. There’s a a damned type of feeling running through it, as if the narrator has lost his soul but has to live the rest of his life kind of floating around haunted by his sins. Love these lines:

    “The Devil or God (And which is which, in the desert?) ”

    “Now I merely puzzle the streets of Paris,
    a toad who buries himself in cafes.”

    Liked by 1 person

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