On Viewing Don McCullin’s” Shell Shocked Marine After The Battle For Hue.


“Do anything for you, soldier?”
He’d leant close to me.
Couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, tried to whisper “Just, just for Christ’s sake slide this hand down the barrel, stick my thumb on the trigger and let me go.”
But he didn’t.
Just said “Don’t mind, do you?”
And pressed the button.
And took this part of me.
Old tales not quite true.
Camera doesn’t take your soul.
Just took this part of me and here I am, looking at you looking at me.
Not the first time no, no, not the first time.
There’s been other rooms.
Out of the wrappings, out of the box and into the light and another goddamn gallery.
I come out of the darkness and the endless whispers from the rest of us.
We sigh.
There’s no old darkness here, no whispers in these walls. Just memories of sunshine, a salt wind from a beach, ghosts of deer fade across the room.
The committee place us in the old set order and we wait.
Satisfied, they leave, thankfully, lights left on and we stare across at each other.
We whisper.
In hate, in fear, in loathing, in shame, in sadness , in regret, in understanding in some weary tolerance.
We whisper.
Nobody told us that this what hell meant.
Day comes, doors open and in they come.
Tweedy type, hair grey, bit too long, curling over a scruffy soiled collar, wife , pashmina flowing.
They look hopefully at the table by the door.
No wine.
Disappointment wafts across the room. They cruise, eyes flickering left to right, stealthily round the walls and, having made sure that there is no-one they know around, exit-stage left as they say.
The rest-the usual mix.
“Teachers, preachers, imps, pimps and comic singers .” The gesturing guy with the blonde is holding forth in the corner.
“No luck in getting a plumber then?” From the old dames edging towards the door.
They have all made the attempt.
” Too important to miss.”
” Been knighted.”
“Not many laughs here, old boy.”
” All too black and white for me.”
They all do the “Fold your arms, peer, purse mouth, look sideways to see if they are being noticed, nod and step briskly to the next one” thing.
A woman cries, a man gives one of those tight gasps has to sit down, a couple leave the room very quickly and I
Am left
Am left
With you.
It happened, buddy.
Happened before.
Seen it before.
Your eyes gave you away. Your pupils dilated. Once, twice and three in a row.
And that’s why.
You can hear me, buddy, you can hear me.
Listen up.
I’ve been in here for fifty, fucking years, man, fifty fucking years.
With this lot!
That Belgian bastard, do you know what he whispers to me?
That kid over there.
Do you know? Those women? Those laughing boys?
Do you know what they whisper in the wrappings, in the night?
Do you know what I whisper about? The school and the children?”
Do you know that when they take us down we leave a little bit of us, a little stain of us on these walls.
Those stains will whisper to you.
I’ll whisper to you whenever you come in here.
I’ll whisper to you tonight.
I don’t want to, I don’t want to.
But I will whisper to you tonight and every night if you don’t-.
For I don’t want to go back into the wrappings, into the boxes, into the darkness, into their whispers.
Don’t want to, don’t want to.
If you don’t!
Reach into your pocket.
You got a Zippo? Buddy? A match? Christ! You don’t smoke, Get a match, a match.
Pull me from this wall and burn me!
Burn me!
I’ll whisper no more.
Of the school in Hue.
All he had to do was slide my hand down the barrel and stick my thumb on the trigger.
But all he did was take this part of me.

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