John O'Donnell

John O'Donnell, Barrister, Poet and Author



The young man on Hang Gai selling Zippos.

is the same age as the soldier he claims left

this behind during the war.

“American”, he says, urging I admire the polished

casing and insignia, the bleak inscription

‘when I die I’m going to heaven I’ve already been in hell.’

He flicks the cap and thumbs the wheel

and a small flame comes to life on this street corner,

enough to light a teenage Lucky Strike, or set ablaze

a roof of thatch, enough to see the blood spurt from


his sudden wound, a thousand eyes around him, watching

in the dark. He shuts the cap. We both know this

is fake; we both know this artifice of brass and petrol


was fashioned in a backroom by nimble-fingered children

born long after the last rotor, the sons and daughters

of other soldiers who laid traps and planted mines


and promised never to surrender until the enemy were gone,

flown home in body-bags,  the dog-tags handed over

but not the lighter  a young girl snatches from the mattress


she’d shared briefly with that boy,  if not for love

then for something both were happy to pretend was

almost the real thing, this girl who carries now inside


the child he never lives to see. “American” she says, pointing

to her belly in the queue at Immigration, and holding out

the Zippo for inspection as she waits to enter his country

– John O’Donnell

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