The Danube glitters and toils just beyond the walnut trees. The Great Writer sits at ease among blooms and disciples. A garden with an old man — younger men drinking his wine; his voice is slow and benign, the others pause to listen. When he has nothing to say he smiles, and sniffs a pink rose that straggles near his nose. Sometimes he closes one eye. His wife, in her painting-smock, serves us hors d'oeuvres and tidbits. She bustles about, then sits to chatter and have a smoke. How idyllic, how humane! I think, testing the thought: — for such scenes are dearly bought when foreign troops ring a town. Betrayals, maybe, and lies earned them a peaceful old age; chewing lox I try to gauge the character of each face. But I don't know the language, and they're all strangers to me. Everybody looks guilt-free, sunlit near the water's edge. I included, it must be, as I stare at the old man like some homage-heavy fan silenced by proximity. Calmed by thoughts that I too wear the double-dealer's false face, I begin to like the place, and move out from my corner. With the interpreter's help I talk of Art in the West for a charming poet-guest who downs vodka at a gulp.
Slumped in a prickly armchair on a humid summer night, I listened dully to dogs barking with brainless pleasure far away and in this street under the Victory flags. The bronze eagles with spread wings, flightless on walls and porches, reflected the light from stars, as my slow imaginings moved between foreign corpses and these Stars and Stripes of ours. Sweaty, itching, impotent, I scratched my shirtless shoulder and reached for another beer — like a listless President dreaming a new world order from idle thoughts and hot air. Or like someone long inured to the crafted, public lies that lull the popular mind into easy disregard for the coarse realities of imperial command. The Heroes were coming home — but not to me in my chair dogged by barks and disarray; "Welcome!" the flags flapped, "Welcome! you fought for all we hold dear in the mighty USA."