An Empty Pack of Cigarettes and a Bottle of Wine

An Empty Pack of Cigarettes and a Bottle of Wine

A Poem by Linda Marie Van Tassell

A broken hero of heaven in hell


He always smelled of cigarettes and wine

in his faded blue jeans and cowboy boots

whose smile was as bright as the day’s decline

or a black hellebore plucked by its roots.

The buttons hung loose from his army coat.

His dark hair was always in disarray,

and a silver cross would glint at his throat

whenever the sunlight would shine his way.

He flicked the Bic in the palm of his hand

to hammer the coffin nail on his lip.

His laughter was as dry as desert sand.

The back of his mind was an acid trip.

He was a ghost that came back from the edge

who saw his brothers in arms as they fell.

He lived to tell it but became a wedge,

a broken hero of heaven in hell.

The bloody footprints that lived in his skin

followed him everywhere day and night;

and screams, like mortars, exploded within

like a rain of bullets to kill the light.

He walked in darkness with nightmares to bind,

bound to the past and its vaunted glory.

With blood in his veins and blood left behind,

there are deep scars and wounds to his story.

He drowned the past in the back of his throat;

but it was short-lived and temporary,

for wine unwinds and the memories float.

It was a burden too great to carry.

With a tattooed eagle and karmic wheel,

he etched forever the weary way tread,

undreamed his dreams, turned his feelings to steel,

and lay at night with the ghosts of the dead.

Most never noticed the rain in his eyes

for they were afraid of what they might see

for shadows do rise and truth never lies.

Paper-thin walls fold eventually.

He walked among us; yet, he walked alone.

He drove a black ’66 Impala.

Aimless and wayward, a feather or stone,

he sought the peace of ancient Shambhala.

One night, he awoke to a battle cry,

to the sounds of dying and Phantom jets.

In a cold sweat shivered, whispered a sigh,

then he reached for his pack of cigarettes.

The pack was empty, a quarter past nine.

He got up to dress to go buy some more.

He carried with him a bottle of wine,

planned to drink it on the way to the store.

He started the engine, backed down the drive,

took a swig; and he was well on his way.

The wind in his hair made him feel alive.

Another swig chased the demons away.

He rounded the bend and blew out a tire.

He lost control as he slammed on the brakes,

hit a pole, and then the Chevy caught fire.

This was the last of his many mistakes.

The police arrived with a siren’s scream.

He had been thrown, in a terrible state.

He floated downstream, bloodstream to redeem;

and the last words that he heard were "… too late."

He always smelled of cigarettes and wine.

The shadow of night stretches over hill.

His ashes were scattered over the vine,

and his spirit is there lingering still.

© 2017 Linda Marie Van Tassell

Author's Note

Linda Marie Van Tassell

My Review

Would you like to review this Poem?
Login | Register


Excellent writing. Wonderful images that tell a story that deserves to be told and understood. This is a difficult but important subject. A great poem.

Posted 8 Months Ago

Strange thing war. Kill or be killed. Comrades to share the burden. Sometimes even laughter.
Strange thing, peace. A greater war. No one to share the burden. The war still goes on in mind. Young men left to battle alone. Your hero is one of many.
You have a great story mind.

Posted 1 Year Ago

This was rife with excellent imagery; shot through with bullet holes of pain and reality. War is simply man killing man. Women and children get caught in the crossfire and nobody ever says I'm sorry. It's deemed "collateral damage" and killings are called "casualties" but there's nothing "casual" about death, nothing at all. The walking wounded suffer more than the dead because they have seen the tiger smile.

Posted 1 Year Ago

You are a wonderful writer Linda. Your skills humble the rest of us. Beautiful descriptions and amazing word usage.

Posted 1 Year Ago

Every word, line, stanza sings the glory anthem to such men.. And i'm sitting here, shell-chocked, more than sad to know this is true..we know it is. Pulls at every nerve, Linda. Tis brilliant writing, fine meter, no fuss or fripperies.. but stark, raw magic of the tragic kind. Sighh (Great instrumental)

Posted 1 Year Ago

Linda Marie Van Tassell

1 Year Ago

Thank you, sweet Em. To know that you read my work is like a gem in the setting of my day ... Gem E.. read more

1 Year Ago

((Linda Marie))
Dear Linda Marie,
From reading most all your works over the years, there can be no doubt the brilliantly magnificent raconteur you truly are. This uncanny ability to create such vivid word pictures and imagery has to live and breathe in your incomparable poetic mind, heart, and soul … there is just no other explanation for it I can conceive of.
The character you've created to feature in this poetic rendering is a stroke of sheer brilliance, and your amazing skills in painting him into our minds is imaginative to the 'nth degree. I cannot emphasize your accomplished abilities or praise them highly enough, Dear Poetess … you're a literary star!
Certainly, the wages of war are without equal in devastation to all humanity, and must, therefore, be abhorred with boundless disdain, and you've brought its effects upon one (and so many-many more) of its direct survivors in a clear, soul-touching, and exemplary manner.
How can we not fall in-love with your poetry … a question I surely cannot answer.

Humbly, with great humility and regard, I bow! ⁓ Richard

Posted 1 Year Ago

Linda Marie Van Tassell

1 Year Ago


I simply don't know what to say after such a beautifully-worded and ever-so-.. read more
Richard 🍃

1 Year Ago

The integrity and sincerity of every word … inspired by You!
You are deeply welcome, Linda .. read more
The casualties of war are so much more than the body count. Those who are fortunate enough to return home are never the same. So many suffer from PTSD or suffer with addictions and can never live "normal" lives again. I could smell the cigarettes and wine...I could feel the pain. Your words are so very powerful, Linda. Lydi**

Posted 1 Year Ago

Linda Marie Van Tassell

1 Year Ago

Thank you so much, Lydia.
intense metaphors and personification in this piece that so aptly describes the war after the war...
the soldiers who do come home physically in one piece, often are in pieces in their becomes more just an existence, barely breathing...but not feeling alive.
the loss because of war is so devastating...and we never really learn.

Posted 1 Year Ago

Linda Marie Van Tassell

1 Year Ago

"We never really learn." Yes, this is so terribly true, the damage irreparable with lives ever chan.. read more
jacob erin-cilberto

1 Year Ago

and as much as i was so against the Viet Nam War...i was even more against the treatment returning s.. read more
Linda Marie Van Tassell

1 Year Ago

I totally agree.
I knew from reading your title this would be dynamic in every way. I was snared by your every verse as I scrolled down the page, and took it all in...

A staggering read, Linda!

Posted 1 Year Ago

Linda Marie Van Tassell

1 Year Ago

Thanks, Kelly.
The way you write is simply too surreal for words!! I am in awe! Well done!

Posted 1 Year Ago

Linda Marie Van Tassell

1 Year Ago

Thank you.

Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


10 Reviews
Shelved in 1 Library
Added on June 11, 2017
Last Updated on December 1, 2017
Tags: Veteran, PTSD, Nightmares, Broken Hero, Heaven in Hell, Linda Marie Van Tassell


Linda Marie Van Tassell
Linda Marie Van Tassell


Poetry has been my passion since I was about fifteen years old, and I love the structure of rhyme and meter moreso than just randomly throwing words upon a page without any form whatsoever. Whi.. more..


Related Writing

People who liked this story also liked..