I had a brother at Khe Sahn

Fighting off the Viet Cong

They’re still there, he’s all gone

                – Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA


I’m not afraid to die. Hell, I already died once,

Duffey says, from the malaria after the war.

I was on the other side, it was beautiful,

no pain, all your questions answered,

like why there’s gophers, dumb shit like that,

he says, a little grin curling around

his dry, cracked lips, a quick flash of light

in his gray, opaque eyes.


I had a choice and I chose to come back.

I don’t know why. No, I’m not afraid to die,

hell no, Duffey says, across the kitchen table

of his cluttered ranch house off El Camino

where’s he’s lived thirty years a bachelor

after his wife left, mother of his two children.

Now she’s trying to come around, take care of me,

he says, knows there’s money, might get some,

but I say, it’s thirty years, goddamn it,

leave it alone, just leave it the hell alone.


Duffey, lean and long limbed, loose t-shirt

and sweats, his face sere and gaunt,

the backs of his hands purple from IV’s,

head shaved, just a hint of  mustache

where the handlebar used to be,

working on the sandwich we brought him,

wiping away the sauce with the big knuckle

of his index finger.


On the wall beside the table, an old framed

picture of him, smiling, straddling his hog,

the ghost of who he used to be

haunting him from the past.


Started in the lungs, then got into the brain,

Duffey says. They tried to zap it

but didn’t get it all, and then the chemo,

but, hell, the cure is worse than the disease,

so I says, that’s enough, I’m not

afraid to die, let’s get on with it.


After a tour in Okinawa,

Duffey re-upped and went to Nam,

sixty-eight, sixty-nine.

Had to save my brother, Duffey says,

never had any luck, none at all,

poor son-of-a-bitch. I was a sniper

and he was a radioman, a walking target.

I shot officers and his opposite on the other side,

and they shot him at Khe Sahn. Never had

any damn luck, no damn luck at all, he says.


A sheet of yellow paper

taped to the kitchen wall reads,


Duffey is a hospice patient.

If you notice a change in him

(including death)

do not call 911. Call…


Hell, I’m still showering myself,

happy here on my own,

food in the refrigerator,

but they want to help,

so I guess I’ll let them,

but I’m not afraid to die.


Hell no, Duffey says, not me.

Already died once, goddamn it.


Will Jones writes, “I am a native Philadelphian, a graduate of William Penn Charter School, class of 1966, and Susquehanna University. I have lived in San Luis Obsipo, California, since 1979. In 2011, I retired from a career in public education as an English teacher and high school principal. My poems have appeared in local publications and in an anthology of poems celebrating the 30th anniversary of the San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival.”