Stephen S. Power

Black Echoes


Cu Chi, Vietnam, April 1965


A newly tattered web betrays the trap

door in the jungle floor. Its gobs of flies

flicker across the trail like warning signs.

So this is where the sniper has holed up.

Mike will be third, trailing a well-worn line,

to search for him in darkness thick as water.

Reed dives in first. He drains away like water.

So lithe and loose, he should elude the traps.

The soft earth heaves.  The squad heaves in the line.

Reed's head is mostly scraps.  They tie on Fly,

who laughs at this.  He drops down facing up.

The line unspools.  They wait.  Mike feels no sign

of trouble nor two quick tugs, the OK sign.

More line plays out, jerks, then goes still as water.

They reel in rapidly while Mike looks up:

The canopies resemble lobster traps.

The line was cut, leaving no trace of Fly.

"He took our bait," Okes says.  He takes the line

and fixes it to Mike.  Mike checks the line,

his flashlight and his gun, breathes out, resigned,

and slides in, hoping not to land on Fly.

He finds nearby a splash of smoke and water.

In the pale clay, frags of Reed's skull are trapped.

Mike nearly heaves and turns his flashlight up

the tunnel, glowing with the shit kicked up.

Fly's kneeprints stretch away in ghostly lines.

Mike crawls until he sees a likely trap:

a corner, scuffs and splatter, all the signs

that here Fly bought it. Mike would kill for water.

He kills the light instead and listens.  Flies

in slow beats buzz while something whispers, flying

around his ears.  A snake—or leg—grinds up

ahead, the distance fuzzed like underwater.

Mike has to look.  Three times he tugs the line

to ask for slack, but feels no countersign.

He scuttles back, praying he missed no traps,

and nearly flies outside. His squad is lined

up by the trap door, dead. A headshot signs

each man. Mike waits like water in a trap.

Poems by Stephen S. Power have appeared in Blue Unicorn, The Lyric, Measure, The Raintown Review and many other journals, most recently in Clarion, Iron Horse Literary Review, String Poet, and The New Formalist and as part of VQR's Instapoetry series. He lives in Maplewood, New Jersey and tweets at @stephenspower. Other work online:



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