12 O’Clock News

vietnam war

gooseneck lamp

As you all know, tonight is the night of the full
moon, half the world over. But here the moon
seems to hang motionless in the sky. It gives very
little light; it could be dead. Visibility is poor.
Nevertheless, we shall try to give you some idea of
the lay of the land and the present situation.


The escapement that rises abruptly from the central
plain is in heavy shadow, but the elaborate terrac-
ing of its southern glacis gleams faintly in the dim
light, like fish scales. What endless labor those
small, peculiarly shaped terraces represent! And
yet, on them the welfare of this tiny principality

pile of mss.

A slight landslide occurred in the northwest about
an hour ago. The exposed soil appears to be of poor
quality: almost white, calcareous, and shaly. There
are believed to have been no casualties.

typed sheet

Almost due north, our aerial reconnaissance reports
the discovery of a large rectangular ‘field’, hitherto
unknown to us, obviously man-made. It is dark-
speckled. An airstrip? A cemetery?


In this small, backward country, one of the most
backward left in the world today, communications
are crude and “industrialization” and its products
almost nonexistent. Strange to say, however, sign-
boards are on a truly gigantic scale.


We have also received reports of a mysterious, oddly
shaped, black structure, at an undisclosed distance
to the east. Its presence was revealed only because
its highly polished surface catches such feeble
moonlight as prevails. The natural resources of the
country being far from completely known to us,
there is the possibility that this may be, or may
contain, some powerful and terrifying “secret
weapon”. On the other hand, given what we do
know, or have learned from our anthropologists
and sociologists about this people, it may well be
nothing more than a numen, or a great altar
recently erected to one of their gods, to which, in
their present historical state of superstition and
helplessness, they attribute magical power, and
may even regard as a “savior,” one last hope of
rescue from their grave difficulties.

typewriter eraser

At last! One of the elusive natives has been spotted!
He appears to be—rather, to have been—a
unicyclist-courier, who may have met his end by
falling from the height of the escarpment because
of the deceptive illumination. Alive, he would have
been small, but undoubtedly proud and erect, with
the thick, bristling black hair typical of the


From our superior vantage point, we can clearly see
into a sort of dugout, possibly a shell crater, a “nest”
of soldiers. They lie heaped together, wearing the
camouflage “battle dress” intended for “winter war-
fare”. They are in hideously contorted position, all
dead. We can make out at least eight bodies. These
uniforms were designed to be used in guerilla
warfare on the country’s one snow-covered moun-
tain peak. The fact that these poor soldiers are
wearing them here, on the plain, gives further
proof, if proof were necessary, either of the childish-
ness and hopeless impracticality of this inscrutable
people, our opponents, or of the sad corruption of their

Elisabeth Bishop (1976).

7 years ago

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