Abdul, on the eve of an ambush
a rifle rests in my arms for now
steel chilling the bones which ache
for the children and the wife in my mind
and the maddening smell of morning rice
as in a dream along my nape
covered with hungry hair.
the rifle does not stir.
it could be dead except that it is not,
waiting maybe to answer questions,
a new breed of animal stalking,
mindless at how we could have summoned
the opposite man,
or peeped through our minds and witnessed
the broken trees churning clouds,
hurricanes and phantom rains
in our hunting grounds.
the night is old,
even the dark birds have ceased
calling down the curled-up moon
and fog hangs low on forest vines
and still lower heave
the spirits of the night.
in a while, the convoy will be stumbling
snakelike down the dirt road,
its headlights grappling onto rocks
trembling grass and darkness of the cliffs.
wounded engines clawing like a cat,
the exacting lion hungers for the pounce.
truckloads of an estranged flag,
but what about
the drowsing fellow snug in his buddy’s arms
maybe dreaming of the children and the wife
and the maddening smell of morning rice?
the dew is heavy on the head and i
am in danger of melting into mist,
entrapping sky and earth and wind
and howlings of the soul.
© Said Sadain, Jr. 2000
The poem, “Abdul, on the eve of an ambush” is anthologized in a book of long-form interviews Voices on the Waters: Conversations with Five Mindanao Writers, edited by Ricardo M. de Ungria and published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2018.
When asked by the interviewer if this poem was based on a real event, the author had this response (excerpted from the book): “…. I wrote that… most likely during the height of a military campaign in Mindanao in the early 1980s. And in writing about that, I might have imagined one of my high school buddies who had fled to the mountains of Sulu in the wake of the 1974 burning of Jolo, having just such thoughts on the eve of an ambush. I wrote the poem in the first person because if I were in the same situation, I would be thinking the same things, and of course, the first person delivers the weight of personal convictions more forcefully than if it was written in the third person.”
— SSJ, 30 June 2018