Brief Encounters With Members of the Chinese Zodiac Gang in the Year of the Iron Dog, 1970
Up the sun-bleached wooden ladder,
across the gritty sandbags and down
into the bunker’s hot metal-shade.
Before my eyes adjust I sense I’m not alone.
A greenish-grey monkey has just finished making
a political statement on my field radio.
He freezes me in place with a mirthless grin
before scrambling over the sandbags, the stench
of his urine now wafting up in the heat.
The perforated steel planks are half-buried
in the mud on the path leading to the mess-hall.
Apparently some idiot has left a cable lying where
anyone could just trip over it. But now it seems
the cable is moving by itself, and by the time my brain
gets a handle on this the cobra’s head is at least 3 feet
off the ground and she’s swaying back and forth,
checking me out, sizing me up. Time has stopped.
Deciding I’m not worth the trouble, she drops back
down and esses her way under the nearest hooch.
My lungs reinflate, my heart starts back up, and the
World’s Luckiest Mammal stumbles on down the trail.
Two hours until dawn and the end of my shift
and I’m doing calisthenics to keep from nodding off.
Another routine sweep with the starlight scope
and now I’m jolted wide-awake by something
large just emerging from the treeline. Out beyond
the barbed wire, in the night-scope’s ghostly green
walks something that is not supposed to be here.
A full-grown tiger is casually making his way
across the top of a rice-dike. There is no time to
wake up anyone else. In 30 more seconds he will
safely disappear back into the nippa palms. This gift
is for my eyes alone and will be burned there forever.
In the morning the women who work this paddy
will criss-cross that dike dozens of times, their tiny
footprints erasing all evidence that the great beast
was ever there.
2 thoughts on "Brief Encounters With Members of the Chinese Zodiac Gang in the Year of the Iron Dog, 1970"
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Vivid. Old memories like old wars are brought to the surface to Re-mind. Very good.
Fantastic descriptions! Very visceral – you put me right there!