Tim Bone and Robin Amy Bass

TIGER

Back there in the jungle heat, carnage steeped beneath my feet
Camouflaged… my unit spread… bullets whizzing overhead
Silently we all fanned out – had to keep our wits about
I lay still or I might die – from the corner of my eye

Something moving – rhythm’s slow – not a man – this much I know
In the middle of this hell – something’s coming – I can tell
For an instant – maybe less – comes a vision – I confess
I was given a reprieve – something I could not conceive

Came a tiger – muscled form – then it stopped – the raging storm
All around me – killing – guns – I’m not hunting anyone
For a second – time suspends – nothing snaps or pops or bends
As the tiger crossed my path – I forgot my pain and wrath

For a moment… maybe three – it was only him and me
And I thought – what beauty there – only joyful – no despair
And I knew what wellness meant – there was nothing to resent
Just him in his habitat – black and gold this perfect cat

Only this majestic cat – never seen one quite like that
Stripes in motion – gold and black – for a moment no attack
Just me and this jungle beast – for an instant war has ceased
Words cannot describe it well – I found my reprieve from hell

Many years have passed since then – twenty five and ten again
I’d never told to anyone. ‘Till once I tried, I’d just begun
To recount of the way it was – but I stopped short, you know – because

Their first question had made me mad. What did they ask? You take a stab.
Did I shoot that tiger dead? – Put a bullet in his head?
Is that all they really see – when they take a look at me?

Just some crazy vet from Nam; Wave me off – they flip their palm.
Look at me with disbelief. God that war was such a thief.

Why am I the monster here? – Not a nod and not a tear
Disapproval and suspicion. Crossed armed holding their position
Ignorant and sometimes cruel – arrogant or just a fool?

They don’t know that place of pain. I don’t know how to explain
When I do, it’s no surprise – I can read what’s in their eyes
They just want to hear of blood. Endless days of rain and mud
They need stories laced with gore. Those who never fought a war

Did I make somebody die? – What makes them feel free to pry?
They see tigers dead or caged – they don’t know the war I waged
With my brothers – how we’ve paid – they must think I’ve got it made

And I guess I do, at that. I saw life’s beauty in that cat
Since that moment far from home – never have I been alone

IWVPA Double Tap Award for War Poetry: March 22, 2006
Awarded: March 22, 2006