Silent Night: Lessons from Christmas in the Jungle, 1969 by Bohdan Sirant, 2011 (dedicated to the Canadian volunteers

who fought in the Vietnam war) December 23 After dinner Twilight ends and A deep darkness descends The solstice moon is but a bare sliver The glint of a sharp sickle An arc of incandescent silver A waning crescent A glimmering bow bent Moon Woman’s magic Is almost spent Stand silently Look out from the cabin porch See a clear black, star-studded sky There!… a falling star flashes Like a flaming torch or an errant arrow Lost then found by intrepid Orion Hunting with his hounds The meteor is followed by others A meteor shower! The Ursids! I haven’t seen one since when I was a kid The modest astral display triggers An anxious mood and Unpleasant memories of stray or ricocheting tracers distant illumination rounds incendiary kinetics, signal flares ignited ballistics and violent pyrotechnics… sundry phosphorus projectiles at play flashing reminders that Death was never far away But let’s not dwell on that

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Look up to the holy station To the greatest trail in all Creation…. the marvellous Milky Way Pathway of dreams and spirits Along which chiefs, warriors, hunters Elders, clan folk, kith and kin Tell the old teachings and legends Stories of mankind’s beginnings Myths and lore And prophesized endings Recalling all that was good and bad, Grateful for the rights and forgiving the wrongs Reciting sacred testaments and age-old prayers for courage to pass the tests and conquer fears Laughing hard and shedding tears Singing their noble death songs As they cross from East to West To the Land of Spirits With the immortal bears: Ursa Major and Minor And Polaris there To guard and guide them To the Happy Hunting Grounds To keep them safe And within Heaven’s bounds Look out over a field At your 2 200 meters out A fox quickly heading for the woods A limp snowshoe rabbit in its jaws The winter wheat lies dormant And below the stout woodchuck sleeps In his subterranean retreat As does the plump she-bear and her cubs In their cozy den hidden in the primal forest deep The fox follows the old split rail fence A grey cedar barrier and Sad and sole relic Of the lonely and poor pioneers Who toiled, struggled, suffered and died here

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Further still the frozen dense bush is Shagged in frost and Thickly crusted in snow There lofty white pines, yellow birch, and hemlocks Shake and sway Crack and knock While curtains of snow drift by like ghosts Snow devils whirl Swirl, dance, sift, shift Powder blows about The western winter wind whines, Whooshes, weeps, gusts, rushes “Blow, blow thou winter wind… Thy sting is not so sharp As a friend remembered not…” But tonight, I do remember my friends Many who are no more I remember them as they were And will always be Young, valiant and defiant and For a short time Masters of Destiny But who now sleep in heavenly peace They will not die so long as we remember them Let’s go back inside and Return to the blessed warmth And sweet scents of Beeswax, cedar, toffee Spruce, sweet grass, cinnamon, Toased almond, vanilla, cloves and coffee Roasted nuts, rum, and cardamom and a baking chocolate cake We’re getting ready for tomorrow For Christmas Eve’s sake Stay away from the kitchen Keep to the rough-hewn darkness Dark except for the meager light gleaming From flickering and dripping candles Reflecting off the pressed-tin ceiling A shadow lantern throws shimmering rays Radiant beams and bars jigging, then reeling

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See Aurora Borealis’ glowing drapes Tremulous light patterns of pulsing stars, And ephemeral otherworldly shapes Fleeting shadows meet by chance Products of divine creativity and idea Tribal lore and yesteryear’s romance A magic lamp’s phantasmagoria and Ghostly square dance Of wraiths, phantoms and specters aloof Beckoned in occult ceremony or séance Reluctant to show their hallowed proof Sweet grass and sage smoke Slowly swirls upward In svelte sylphlike serpentine coils The dying fire needs another log So place one on the cinders and embers And watch the thick maple smoke Twist voluptuously Listen to the faint music A tall stack of CDs from which to choose Christmas carols, bluegrass gospel, and Hendrix’s psychedelic blues Behold the freshly-cut glittering spruce Unlit, standing in the corner Ornaments glistening In the meager light Angel-topped, it shows off Dozens of bronze and silver stars And gold foil covered chocolate dollars Tiny hand-made jet airplane models And little red sleighs Filled with jelly beans Gumdrops and rock candy And little chocolate bottles Filled with vodka, rum and brandy All the ornaments and decorations Are laden with secret significance One is a porcelain flute A gilded swan A gift from a young lost love Lam Lan, a cute girl from Danang Sing softly

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The way she often sang “Angel came down From heaven yesterday, Stayed with me just long enough To rescue me....” I hope you are alive and well And have had a good life, And are happy, Lam Lan Wherever you are Fly on my sweet angel There’s the crèche below Shepherds, sheep, cattle and donkey Wise men, Joseph, and some mares There’s a red house over yonder Lit by signal flares The Virgin and her baby No other cares Listen to the chorus sing The Wind Cries Mary Little Wing Oh, Christmas Tree Joy, a Turtle Dove Night Bird Flying Bold as Love Each ornament triggers memories and I think wistfully of Christmases past But there’s one I remember Better than all the others Christmas in the jungle I remember the bright full moon Of December 23, 1969 Now 42 light years away The tip-off A night ambush Along a VC trail We’ll have Chuckie flushed Through a jungle bower We’re scared and Lay prone, hunker or cower We toil like slaves Digging Ranger graves We lie where ruddy orchids flower Loaded for bear

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Bristling with firepower A rumor gets passed along “We’re not taking prisoners” Patiently waiting Like silent knights Every man a St. George awaiting the fire-breathing dragon The Serpent of Old to slay To give vicious Charles His deadly due today To trap him in a furious And unfair fray Our frenzied reception dour Watch for his slinking silhouette At the witching hour Here comes skulking Chuck Bearing his diabolical Red Star The mark of the Bolshevik Beast He’s going to pull the trip wire Up to his usual cruel games Won’t respect a cease-fire Shoot up illumination flares Their parachute borne blinding lights Slowly descend Like avenging angels Come to smite the evil ones As foretold in Revelations There he is! Mow him down When Chuck’s trapped in the pocket Bracket with mortars Fire the antitank rockets Hear the trumpet’s blare When he come for more Lob some grenades Set off the Claymores Need more fun Pump that shotgun Guns Up! Bring up the M60 mowers And every last flame thrower Tracers and gas stream down Like glories from heaven above Foo gas sets Chuckie alight Gets him running amok

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Quaking at the apocalyptic sight Chuck’s a mobile human bier straight from Dante’s Inferno A staggering funeral pyre Not enough pain and sorrow? Let me stand next to your fire Want a silent night? Wait until tomorrow We end the bloody bout At our dawn of redeeming grace We hear the dying shout Let’s get out of this crazy place! Put Mister Charles to rout Mark the LZ with purple haze Fly the wounded out With the massacre over We fulfilled our dreadful role And the threat for the moment gone With others on patrol We can finally rest The deadly deed is done All is calm, all is bright We are in a state of speechless shock As if in a daze of disbelief An eerie silence Then someone breaks out laughing heartily It’s contagious Someone else yells out Allelluia! Allelluia! Allelluia! Then someone down the line begins to sing Silent Night, Holy Night… We all join in The radioman knows all three verses We make it up as we sing along Only now does it seem safe and right To listen to a sermon Or celebrate mass Enjoy a truly silent night Listen to the bugle Assess poor Chuckie’s bungle Ponder the lessons of Christmas A Christmas in the jungle I see headlights coming

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Down the windswept drive Doll, the kids are here! Soon the party arrives Singing carols We wish you a Merry Christmas…. Silent Night…. O Come All Ye Faithful… And others Tears roll down my cheeks I cannot stay My thoughts lift me up As if on a snowy owl’s downy wings And fly away Gliding silently, stealthily To a distant time and land Distant faces, men, gunfire Flames, sirens, drums, screams Sighs, jokes, frayed nerves, gallows humour, laughter Loyalty and camaraderie, worn and torn maps To a time when stomachs churned To the horrors of friends bullet-ridden And badly burned To taps and reveille What were the lessons learned? No one can confidently say He will live the next day No Merry Christmases Without the crying Without wounds Without young warriors dying No Silent Nights Without great sacrifice Without a noble fight Si vis pacem, para bellum Be prepared for war and to fight again and again If you want Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men

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