1 Mack, the Photographer
It wasn’t posed. The guys were routing out VC.
I’d crouched to grab another lens,
glanced up, framed this – stacked in the angle

of Ed’s legs, three faces: top, a woman
or young guy, slack-jawed; next to him
a kid with buzz-cut hair, frowning

at Ed’s gun; on the ground a bigger boy
in an elastic squat, eyes blank. I focussed,
snatched a few shots then turned towards

some women round a fire. Next thing
Ed’s AK roared to life, a frag exploded,
showered me with earth, stoppered my ears.

I saw the women’s scream-black mouths,
focussed and clicked until the film ran out,
didn’t reload for the bodies in the dirt.

2 Marty, the Grunt
We were on search & clear – found this hootch
way off the track, suspected hidden Cong.
Ed was in a bunch of newbies, fresh

from home. I saw his shakes trying to reload,
gave him a hand then looked him in the eye:
‘Wise up, kid – you get in first or end up K.I.A.’

3 Ed, the New Recruit
They said to watch your back, your
sides; to keep all senses primed.
They said trust nobody. Mack went

for freaky shots. He crouched behind,
took aim between my knees. The little one
looked scared, eyes on my gun; put me

in mind of Dean, Aunt Annie’s boy.
They said the Cong were cunning, with
no respect for life, yet held old folks

in high regard. They never mentioned kids.
Two minutes on we fired the huts
to flush out gooks. I shut my eyes,

let fly with my AK. When the only sound
was spitting wood, I looked, saw Deano
and his friend sprawled in the dirt, tasted

dinner bitter in my throat. Could be,
like Marty said, they’d have grown up
to wipe us out. Best believe that.

Gill Learner

frag – grenade; hootch – native hut;
grunt – infantryman; K.I.A. – killed in action