By Luis G. Dato

Across the moonless meadows I make a sudden flight,
Up hills and down the valleys of immemorial death,
My throbbing heart remeasures my stallion’s labored breath,
I stand upon Zapote this hour of near midnight.

I ride alertly leaning, each ear for war’s sound strained,
My boots upon the stirrup, the reins all tight and drawn,
For once upon this terrace awake before the dawn,
I stood a posted sentry, while a crescent waxed and waned.

Stars bloodshot looked from Heaven, my own eyes were as red,
The night was strangely quiet, men waited for the word,
Until beyond the darkness, in early dawn was heard
The snarl of distant trumpets, an army’s muffled tread.

I stood upon the stirrups, the very winds were mute,
The trebles rent the silence, my bugle swift I blew,
My comrades knew death coming, the voice of death they knew,
And to the unfurled colors, hands raised a last salute.

Tonight, the stars receding, leave gloom upon the skies,
Yet distant still before me, I see torn, blood-stained reeds,
See shirts all bullet-riddled, and many a corpse that bleeds,
I hear across the darkness a rebel band’s outcries.

I hear the tense commanders, I hear the bivouac yet,
I see the sudden flutter of shrapnel-shattered flags,
I see the wounded stagger upon the frowning crags,
See Mausers smoking, glowing, the flashing bayonet.

Behold the battle-standards upon the heights displayed
Behold by fitful starlight the flashing saber stroke,
Still see platoons in rally, which, reeling, fled and broke,
The while Zapote staggered beneath the charge they made.

I see the swaying columns, the onset man to man,
Recoiling cannon roaring, exploding shot and shell,
Above the spluttering ridges where hope and hero fell,
Still see blood flowing , streaming to join the water span.

From slumber I awaken this night hour every year,
From slumber sought of mortal thrice ten years underground,
The shrieks of dying captains within the tombs resound,
Like clarion calls of duty complaining o’er my bier.

The voice of new commanders will summon me again,
Though Time has laid upon me a coverlet of years,
My warrior soul arises each year as midnight nears,
To feel upon Zapote a stab of ancient pain.

The din of old insurgence, the onset and the charge,
The tramps of fresh batallons against the foe in march,
Once more shall send me flying upon Zapote’s arch,
Anew to fire defiance against the hostile marge.

Tonight, my steed is chafing, the reins are tightened so,
Awhile upon Zapote I stand this midnight hour,
I gallop with the night-winds and over valleys scour,
To watch above Zapote the curling stream below.

The night I see is waning, the flaming dawn is near,
Up hills and down the valleys, I make a swift return,
My breath is short and labored, my veins all weary burn
Last fires of impulse borrowed a midnight hour each year.

Zapote Bridge Scene of Battle SENTRY OF ZAPOTE
Zapote Bridge, scene of battle courtesy of Ortigas Library Foundation

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