by James Valvis
artwork by Getabo

Back then we thought we were ninjas,
shadows of that summer,
dressed in camouflage, split-toe boots,
ski masks, and ropes we used for belts;
we darted from tree to tree,
practicing assassination, mayhem,
and espionage. You taught me a few words
in Japanese, and we both chose a favorite weapon.
You the long sword, a heavy instrument
I could barely lift, let alone wield; I chose the staff,
a light one I carved from a fallen tree, painted.
In the day, we watched old kung-fu movies
and emulated the bad English dubbing.
In one movie I liked the kunoichis, female ninjas
who could hurl shurikan throwing stars
across wide fields straight into a man’s heart.
You showed me the power of concentration,
and no matter what anyone did they couldn’t break you
from a meditation after you started sitting,
legs crossed, fingers pinched in front of you,
thinking about the yellow sea or rice cakes
or the girl you loved back home.
That summer, everything seemed simple.
We were assassins, by profession,
and all we did really was run amuck
in that KOA, and destroy a few tents;
we just couldn’t find anyone to pay us to kill.
Years later I would have to join the army
to learn I wasn’t a murderer, and I burned my staff
and chose for my new weapon the English language,
which I carved and painted, looking for knees
I could crush; and after your wife divorced you,
that girl back home you’d always known
and must have imagined you always would,
you traveled to mount fuji and buried your long sword
there in its coldest peak, returned home,
and chose for your new weapon 100 proof rum
until they found you face down in your bath tub.
John, it was a shock to hear of it,
remembering how well you could concentrate.
I thought you were paying attention
when those kunoichis were hurling shurikans
across the wide fields straight into a man’s heart
before silently disappearing in the shadows.