Night Ambush

Animal Photos

Cambodia 1972 — for Paul Brandt

The night splashes your eyes with ink. No moon breaks through the canopy. Nothing but solitary blackness and terror. Your eyes strain. Your ears reach out. Death is the jungle’s reality. Will this be the night it arrives to claim it’s own? The patrol snores fitfully, dreaming of girlfriends and Corvettes. You have built a carefully constructed wall of destruction. Claymore mines looped from limbs. Explosive fruit strung from trees, waiting for a careless touch, hell’s detonator in your terrified hand. You hear movement. Your skin crawls like tangled snakes. You slip your M-16 on fully automatic, and pray to gods you don’t believe in. You wait for it, holding your breath tight as a lover. And then, you see, padding and silent, a black panther, inside your defense of doom. Your eyes meet in knowing silence. You can’t fire a single shot. It holds you in its yellow stare for a brief eternity before it turns and slinks away. The peace of survival pulses your veins. If a beast could penetrate that explosive wall and live, you know you are safe. All your fears go AWOL. You will not die in this anonymous graveyard. Life beckons from further on. Like that gliding cat, you will return to it.