The terrorist leaned out the pilot's window
dwarfed on TV by the sloping shoulder of the jet.
Already one American sailor dead.
On every channel, fifteen-year-old Iranian
boys waving captured Uzis on a bus
to the Iraqi front. Fervor. Jihad.
But in my mind, I'm seeing another scene,
a National Geographic photo: a jungle clearing
in Mindanao, the Muslim island
of the Philippines. Twelve men have unrolled
mats of woven palm. They bow to Mecca.
I can almost hear the muezzin.
Perhaps a tree branch was his minaret
and as he perched there chanting, he disturbed
a python, who slid into leafy gloom.
The men wear green headbands, chant Mabuhay
Husayn. Mabuhay Khomeini. Karbala now.
Their hands reach out to the boys on that bus, on the jet.
And I recall my great-great-uncle Cesar,
a fighter in General Aguinaldo's barefoot
army in the Philippine-American War.
Seized by the ritual rage of amok,
he stormed the Kansas line in Caloocan,
a US Army infantry barricade.
Later he couldn't remember bayonets
or bullets. Only heart's flame foaming
through fist into the haft and blade of a bolo.
Amok, Cesar danced through rifle fire
without a gun, his knife a snake's tongue.
No bayonet pierced the red haze
of his eyes. Like magic he slipped untouched
through the gauntlet of men, killed thirty
American soldiers, then melded into jungle.
For three weeks, a platoon of trackers searched.
He'd vanished like a fish in a mountain stream.
Bahala na, he had said before his charge,
come what may. The dove he had glimpsed
against blue sky made no difference.
Just the keen edge and the blood of sunset.
But the twelve in Mindanao, after prayers,
slide oiled cloth through the barrels of M-16s.
Jihad, amok: all of that can wait. Today
these men will work, haul fish from boats.
© Vince Gotera
First appeared in The Wooster Review. Later reprinted in Ghost Wars (2003).