A Triptych of Silences

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
Vietnam War Poetry. Phuc Toy Province.

Submitted: December 28, 2007

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Submitted: December 28, 2007

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A Triptych of Silences

I

Silence so deep
it becomes almost tangible.
No birds sing,
no animals rustle in the undergrowth -
except of course cobras and millipedes.
Only the buzz of stinging insects,
and the humidity dripping from the leaves.
Silence that belies the seeming peace.


The jungle is not whole,
not a healthy place,
despite its stunning greenery.
If it were at peace -
animals would roam,
children’s’ voices would echo,
women driving water-buffalos
to this stream would chatter.
Ipso-facto, there is no peace.
You don’t have to be
in-country long to discern that.

Silence so deep -
you must maintain it, or die -
despite the insects stringing,
and the snake slithering over your arm.
No movement for hours,
stay down-wind -
piss where you lay
and bury it to kill the stink
from carrying to the quarry’s noses -
and wait while the leaches feast.
No movement –
no cough,
no sneeze,
no yawn,
no smoking,
no speech,
no snoring.
Its boring - fearfully so.

And eventually the silence gives way
to furtive sounds.
A twig snaps,
a rustle in the tall grass, eyes.
The quarry comes.

Four females emerge from a gully,
edge into the water
and begin to cross the stream.
We wait until they are all
fully in the water.
A hand signal –
and all six of us
fire a three-round burst.
The quarry scatters, unhurt,
except for their pride.
We are glad -
it is a game, albeit often deadly;
and they will not cross here soon again.
We police our hiding places
and withdraw,
mindful of their comrades
outside the nearby hamlet.

Are we poor shots?
Miserable hunters?
Undisciplined Yanks?
Oy! Use your brain, mate!

Who likes to shoot women
in the back,
even if they are armed VC?


II

Silence so deep
it becomes very tangible.
No moon, deep night.
I have lain here all day.
There are two of us.
Every three hours
we switch roles.
Now, he is the
spotter,
and I have the gun.
We are two rows inside
a rubber plantation tree line.
Beyond us paddy fields,
dark waters in the night -
Disturbed waters now,
as VC emerge from the further tree line.
We watch –
who gives orders,
who leads, controls
this stealthy advance.
We find three,
I choose one.
He dies.
We move slowly four trees left,
And set up again.
They will not advance
further tonight.
Tomorrow another team will replace us,
choosing another spot.

III

Silence so deep I am asleep
in my sandbagged humpy,
dreaming of a cold Tooheys
and the sheilas at Trigg Beach.

A whistling,
then a blast.
Shrapnel peppers my fly half,
and I - as ingrained self-preserving reflex now -
seek ground, helmet and flack jacket
simultaneously;
but weapon last of all.

I hope its just the VC’s
nightly harassing fire,
which unfortunately for us
is more effective than an alarm clock,
and about as gentle as my
Squady’s voice at Revelle.

Disturbed wasp nest.
Orders barked.
Rushing feet.
Pounding hearts.
A second whistling gift,
and another ripping blast.

All gunmanned and ready,
and we wait -
are they coming -
is this it?
From another quadrant now
come two more mortar rounds,
Lethal in intent - nil result,
Thank God.

But our patient enemy is happy.
We will not rest this night,
with stalker stalking stalker at
Firebase Coral.

They pull out as we reply
with a few rounds of our own.
And tomorrow,
perhaps,
we will do this dance again.

I take out my sweat-soaked pocket diary,
and stubby pencil,
make a tic and relax a bit -
one hundred and forty-seven more days
and this Nasho can go home. +



by James Gagiikwe 2007

Author’s notes:

I. Taken from an after-action report.

II.From a veteran's conversation.

III. Composite of many experiences.


+ Nasho = National Service, the Australian draft during Vietnam


© Copyright 2017 James Gagiikwe. All rights reserved.

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