I could not see the sun setting over the sea
as my windowless cage of armor raced over Bornean sands,
but I knew as I loaded my Colt’s magazine with bullets
and counted down the miles to the jungle
that it was watching us as it did the doves in the clouds and the anchors in the waves —
in the way I once thought a painter did
as he stroked rainbows on his skies,
weeping tears on his children.
I wipe my camouflaged chest with sweat from the grip of my cocked gun,
and drum my fingertips along its slide
as I feel the car lurch onto the rough jaws of tree roots,
out of the guard of the sun and closer to the island’s heart.
The eyes of my brothers remain aimed to the floor
and I cannot help but wonder if they spend what could be their final minutes of service
thinking about the colors the sun makes when it shoots pink rays through filters
of triangular cracks in the clouds.
My hands linger on my gun’s edges and my head on the clouds’
too long to sense the ping of a grenade,
only the mind-numbing jolt it uses to launch me to the heavens
before dropping me in a pool of blood by the shore.
my ears shake with white noise loud enough to reduce the war cries around me
to the whispers of a dream
though the rest of my body holds silence
as I rise from my sandy tomb with alarming numbness
and gaze onto the Earth I fell to,
whose sunlight is quickly succumbing to the oppressive Karimata Strait,
soon to reduce the battlefield’s bloody fighters to black
save for the white illumination from the occasional grenade or gunfire.
My capacity to remember anything ̶
from the invasive campaign of ‘39 to the ongoing conflict to my north,
from the brothers who sat before me moments ago to the ghosts of my company back home,
from the shrapnel embedded in my feet to the cracked bones in my hand ̶
everything abandons my mind as I spend my adrenaline pulling my remaining weapon,
a matte blade nothing more than a few inches in length,
from my dull green-brown pocket with my good hand
and charging to the nearest mound of sand for cover.
my ringing head immediately clashes with a crouching silhouette
whose softly-lit arm I grasp not out of training but defiant instinct,
for it takes only the flash of a moment to promise myself
that I will never again allow another person, American or Japanese or of any other race concealed against the pressing night,
to hinder me even in my final moments with the fearful hesitation my opponent reveals in his eyes
as he feels the opening once carved into me with devout daggers
slit onto his throat.
before I can recall the billions of opponents still surrounding me,
some armed with guns and others with verses,
I savor the moment in which their debt feels paid.
as the sun’s inevitable fall brings with it the light,
I push onward to duel every fist and knife and handgun,
expending the energy I believed to no longer possess
in the most furious slaughter this international war has ever seen.
in the depths of the night,
when the moon and the stars desperately shine life below,
I locate the target I know will be my last before retreating down the coast for dawn
battling with the men I’ve learned to call brothers in defiance of isolation.
when he disappears behind the hilly tomb I recognize as my landing to this hellish Earth,
I charge onto the sand and jump into him,
throwing his gun to the sea and his glowing face into my hands
as our bodies entangle on the shore and leave us
ripping off clothes and desperately grasping for each other’s
weapons, before the flames of a bomb flash over the wall
and spark life in the vivid waterfalls of blood running through the mud painted on his cheeks,
whose rivers accentuate pink grains of sand and the crystal blue saltwater clinging to his lips
before streaming through the minefield of scars that dotted his chin, disappeared under his beige chestpiece, and reappeared from the tatters of his tight sleeves with disturbing familiarity.
the flash lingers long enough to redirect my frantic fingers around the blade wrestled from my pocket,
and vanishes as I drive its once chaste edge into my opponent’s chest,
watch his blood spill paints to commemorate the late twilight,
sink into the bloodied sands beneath us to face the stars,
hold onto my chest as if to check for two lungs and a pulse,
and gasp as my high crashes to the agonizing flame that is the waterfall bursting from my own chest.
my fingers retract from the heat, but my darting eyes cannot help but notice its burns,
for my camouflaged skin is torn away at my chest and arms to reveal an array of new wounds
framing the most vibrant offender shining by my shoulder and down the length of my chest
before fading like a sunset by my heart.
concealed by an explosive cloud of smoke,
I crawl to the edge of a saltwater pond dug by the shoreline and fall in.
When I open my eyes, I see an angel hovering over my grave,
Staring down at my wounds, old and new,
With forest eyes to complete his golden sunrise of a background.
My ears echo explosions and screams as he shouts for assistance in lifting me from the pit,
Unphased by my pained groans of protest.
As my crude stretcher carries me past the rays of the sun that refused death almost as much as my body did,
I draw my rescuer’s eyes from the bloody explosion on my chest to the desperately colorful gleam in my eyes,
For my lips could not ask if the battle was won.
He looked back at my chest
And then to the sun rising from the ocean
Before saying, “Your war will continue.