To Kill: To Be Killed

Contributor: Susan Dale

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‘Soldiers steadily advancing.’ He fell to the ground, this Cherokee son, fighting in Vietnam. He was laying pressed tight against a log. Tall, thick underbrush concealed him from approaching guerrillas; the guerrillas advancing up from an underground tunnel.

A steady stream of them coming to keep coming. ‘Parades of Asian soldiers. As many vietcong, as ants emerging from an ant hill. Marching up and forward with set purpose.’

Sunset to twilight. The blue-black beginnings of night peeking around the corner with starry eyes when he felt brave enough to pop his head up and assess. ‘More, than more guerrillas; all emerging from that same underground tunnel. Fanning out to be here, there, everywhere. Steps cracking branches and rustling underbrush. All taking positions that begin battles with Arvin. Arvin waiting for them behind tree lines.’

The death and dying that began in a narrow sunset, continued with blazes of orange and golds that thrashed a violet twilight. The twilight led to blue-black night, to black-black night. All the time he stayed motionless. Quiet, behind the log in shadowed sundown. Wrapped in a harrowing night of owl eyes and jungle screams, of battles and battle cries. Screams of tracers. Screams of men. Through it all, he heard stars shouting directions to the moon. The moon heard and widened to full face to create a valley of light, by which guerrillas slunk back to the tunnels; many less soldiers than when the battles began.

There, in the deep, dark tunnels, the jungle fighters stayed throughout this night, and the nights thereafter. Nights after nights: nights until the gray’ before dawns. After coming up, they moved through amplified days of grasping, gasping battles on this war-torn earth___ to nights within the dark tunnels. Battles upon battles: sunsets into sunrises: twilights into sun-ups.

And while he was yet lying tight against the log, he felt that he too was moving beyond time measured in hours and minutes. ’I enter an interim that transfixes me into leaving when I will.’

The time, this time removed from the body of the universe. Time was entering into the arteries of his being. Changing time palpitating inside of him. Time expanding, shrinking, as he lay behind the log. His time collapsed around space. Space being swallowed by other spaces. Spaces reaching beyond sundown to stretch towards a time of stars and other worlds.

Once a time when he looked into the sky and saw sunspots on the sun. Sunspots flashing and jumping___ altered the time within him. Behind the log he stayed, and knew, as he was lying there, that he was both in front and behind time. He was following time and looking back at time___ to be part of the moments being shattered by rocket attacks and mortar fires. Behind the log he remained. He remembered to know, thus fear the grenades and bullets zinging over his head.

Yet pressed behind time, and against the log when he saw slashes of sunsets sink into ivory twilights. Still and yet, he laid silent, motionless, fearful behind the log while the sun sunk further to be behind a mountain range.

Within the immense silence of another mountain night, ’how many nights has it been,’ his eyes held to the womb of mother moon. Her soft sure light bathed the heavens and gave birth to myriads of baby stars. He was drifting off in dreams of the six grandfathers. They were picking him up and moving him one step closer to transcendence.

And when he awoke, the Cherokee son realized that he had been carried over to a time given over to what he was becoming. And what he was becoming actually saw the sun trembling the next day, simultaneous with mortar attacks that shook the earth. He rubbed his eyes and looked again. Cassava vines were sweeping along the earth. Crawling about and choking everything in their path, including the cavity that swallowed the guerrillas.

The next morning, ’but what morning, when?’ guerrillas were chopping through the vines’ profundity with machetes. Heading into another day of bloody battles. Rushing forth, yelling, cursing into bloodshed and death.

But then the next night, the 22nd night of the third moon, the land was sanctified by the star-studded curtains of the sky falling to earth. This was the night that the guerrillas completed what it was they came to do.

‘They came to kill and to be killed,’ he concluded.

The following morning, ’what morning?’ broke with sunrise shining against a dusk of the mountains. Frail facets of sunlight broke into a drifting fog. The guerrillas left, so too did he leave. He hustled away from the killing fields, but again. Away from skies dark with crows circling. Away from v-shapes of black wings in the skies. Away from plumes of smoke rising from charred lands. From blood-soaked ground. From a cratered earth; from cratered minds; from broken
bodies; away from all of it. And on his way to gone, he realized
that he had fulfilled the Cherokee direction of the west; dark and death.

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Susan’s poems and fiction are on Eastown Fiction, Tryst 3, Word Salad, Pens On Fire, Ken *Again, Hackwriters, and Penwood Review. In 2007, she won the grand prize for poetry from Oneswan.
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