Natural History

By Leroy V. Quintana

To cross a river meant leeches.
A company of NVAs crashing toward you
would be a troop of baboons.
A green snake named Mr. Two Step,
for the number you’d last after bitten.
It was said the NVAs carried flashlights.
One night frightening scores of them
turned out to be a swarm of fireflies.
The whir of birds’ wings
turned out to be artillery rounds.
Threw stones at a cobra once,
the sun going down.
Fire at it
and the VC would know our position.
A VC moving slowly in the elephant grass
happened to be a water buffalo.
One night they overran the compound.
Loaded down with grenades, AK-47s
from North Vietnam, mines strapped to their chests:
these were only the mosquitos.
The VC only a little more than a whisper’s reach away,
we called in the Cobras. They came in hissing,
cannons twice as fast as the old gunships.
It was also said the VC kept chickens leashed to strings.
So easily frightened they were perfect warning.
One night, shivering uncontrollably with fear,
knowing I would have to kill whatever was out there,
walking slowly, scratching.

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