James Penha


Strategy for Victory:
            Counterinsurgency in the Borneo Bush

We stopped for a night in the longhouse
where the Dayaks live in congress
each family extended among itself
on platforms stilted high for breezes
but also against floods, animals, and Umot,

the beasts who rule the Borneo night. Umot
Sisi look like wild men, covered in hair;
they whoosh and whoop with the wind
among the trees until the morning shines
on branches denuded of their fruit and nuts.

We hoped to see such fearsome brutes in full
moonlight but the chief said, "Sisi are not
fools; they wait for darker skies and fuller forests.
But you will hear Umot Perubak beneath us
in the shadows of the longhouse where they

snort as they take their fill of our droppings
and our garbage and any pup or child who
fails to keep to the longhouse after dusk."
After midnight, we heard Perubak munching
and felt the foul odors of their breath

between the floorboards. But what riled us
was the patter of claws and the ripping
of our backpacks. "What?" we yelled,
while the chief pointed to the rafters where
"Perusong, the slyest of all Umot, enter

even our longhouse at will with the power
of transparency. Or they take the form
of rats and devour all we rely on and live for.
There. You see."
I saw the rats. "Why don't you
trap them?"
"If they were rats,

we would use traps, But against Umot
Perusong, incarnations of Evil,
we have potions, spells, and ancient crafts
our shamans have devised and ordain.
Only this faith in magic keeps our fears at bay."

[appeared in The New Verse News]

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