The Enemy Never Fires

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Contributor: Robert Tustin

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Lying in the cold-wet grass, somewhere
in Vietnam, my first day turns to night.

I’m green like the overgrown
grass, but not as high.
My M-60 is loaded
but it gives me little

Nighttime descends silently
on padded feet. Like a panther, it is
black and it stalks us. It is
quiet, too quiet, and even the moon is

hiding. Hemby points out
tiny lights glimmering off
in the distance. A signal? The enemy?
In low whispers the unit begins

to buzz. The tension is unbearable, and soon
we reach our breaking point. The whole unit
to fire
in one

The great machine is
in motion

‘Cease Fire,” screams the Sarge—
then all is quiet again.

The enemy never fires.

Are they mocking us? Unknown
terror fills our souls. No one dares
utter a word. Hearts

beat in the darkness:

—the damp darkness
of fear—

the dead
of night.

The lights resume flashing, closer and closer in
an unbreakable code. “Where
are they?” “What the
hell is going on?” “Why
don’t they fire?”

Someone is gently sobbing,
squeezing the naked
trigger of an empty M-16—
like a conductor tapping as we reload
to battle the darkness and the silence
—the damn deafening silence.

The enemy never fires.

We pause, our weapons
poised, as the lights resume flashing, endlessly
flashing. Then like a candle
lit in prayer—
our fire
the silence—
our fire
the darkness
and gives up
our position
in the grass.

Nothing can stop them
from flashing,
endlessly flashing,
closer and closer comes
the electric juggernaught.

The enemy never fires.

As nightfall slowly gives way to daybreak,
the blushing dawn emerges and disrobes—
throwing off a gown of bright colors to reveal


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Robert Tustin is a native New Yorker currently living in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with his wife, Kendall, and son, Nicholas.


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