Battle at Biak, New Guinea

April Naoko Heck


In the strategic shelter of hillside caves 
my great-grandfather's infantry starves. 
The 2-2-2. On this island of coral reef.
In heatstroke jungle, in malaria swamps.
Rumors of Japanese ships—but no ships. 
Birds of paradise thrive.
Sun thrives. Ulcers thrive. His dogs' ribs 
sharp as blades. These animals
won't be saved. This island. This airfield. 
This ghost of shore. Rumors of reinforcements, 
no reinforcements. Dogs guide snipers at night. 
But no ships, no ships, Colonel, the men 
are starved. Gasoline trickling into tunnels,
matches thrown at caves' mouths. 
The flag must burn. The grave, dug. 
It was a pistol he used, no, a knife.
It was a bundle of letters he sent. It was the sun.
Somebody, a soldier, told what he saw, 
saw what needed to be told.
Harikiri. A knife, no, a pistol. 
His wife held his hat. My mother held a flag.
The women remembered the house in Manchuria.
Servants. Running water. Remembered the sun, 
no, a spoonful of dirt. He fell—somewhere he fell,
he fattened the jungle with his pride.