Breathing lesson

Night, cabin, fishing stream, storm coming, candlelight, again Father's demons rise, force him back in time --


World War II, Philippines, Leyte battles, Ormoc, Kilay Ridge, Japan resolve, sniper stealth, suicide attacks at night.


I ask for the story I know -- am a patient listener, echo casualty tolls: 40,000 rising sons die,


15,000 American sons too. I also recall tales of Dad told by Mom -- war over, back home, nightmares, screams.


He closes eyes, begins: "Hate finds a way to day, brings along a friend in rage." Details pound down like rain --


another surprise attack rebuffed, GIs bring two Jap captives in, undo silence, use cigarette tip to trace noses, eyelashes, then eyelids.


They strip off helmet, shirts, shoes, pants, shorts, sharpen bamboo sticks, jab points up Jap butts,


rip through guts, lungs, into heads, lift the impaled -- chant, dance, with skewered dead parade the camp.


Frenzy past, soldiers, shamed, pull sticks, rake bloody clumps, in haste, erase the mess -- before sunup, bury what's left.


I am sick -- Dad finds brief peace, listens to me breathe. "At dawn," he whispers, "the stream, the fish -- we'll catch them, then release."



Timothy Pilgrim