Poetry from Steven Croft

Travel Liar

Our first day out, on the streets, the loudspeaker call

to prayer did not draw attention, like the first voice

ears ever heard must have — we did not stop,

stare at the minaret.

Those faceless, gown-covered women that walk 

behind a husband, their trailing line, are expected —

that they should bow their heads, be suddenly struck

by a cane for some unpardonable liberty, obvious.

Sudden explosions on roadways do not cause panic,

burn from shrapnel finding an unarmored place

does not hurt, scar the skin — the dead still see life,

their eyes reflecting our unbelieving image.

Entering, weapons drawn, dark of night, the house

of a bomb-maker, we have no feeling of self-loathing

as the collateral shrieks, crying of children sound —

through the rooms, into the legs of mothers.

Walking the souq along a dirty river, gibber of animals,

dusty stacks of carpets, baskets of vegetables, hanging,

half-carved goats of smiling vendor, his legs crossed over 

slaughterhouse sand — just like our muzak-tranced malls.

The simulacra distortions of Skype are the same as being

in the living room at home.


I halt suddenly, the dust of its movement blowing now

past my armored carrier: a dead dog lies in the road

20 meters ahead.  Stopped in the road noise, I tell Sergeant Lewis

over the quiet of the headset that talks to the whole convoy, too,

“I don’t like it.  I don’t see any wires, but I just don’t like it” –

any object in this land can be cover for a bomb.  No wires, then

no criteria to call it up – no three hour wait for EOD — and we hope

to set up our observation position outside of Husseinia before

dark anyway.  The voice of the convoy commander says,

“Go around.”  I pull on the steering levers, with a boat-like motion

climb the berm that separates north and south-bound MSR Tampa.

The line of oncoming traffic swerves way off the road, slams brakes –

we’ve skipped so many warning shots over these roads,

shot into so many cars that with bad intention or inattention

would not stop, this is the instant reaction to us, to US,

all over Baghdad.  Later, in the dusk of the Husseinia suburb –

while we unload our infantry to point rifles into the darkness,

killing whatever comes too fast – the major says “our dog”

is on the brigade frequency: it just struck an Army MP convoy — 

with a Vonnegut character’s feeling of guilt, I ask him,

“How many dead?”

Beauty Moves Away the Pall

The clear, intense blue sky through a square

of bulletproof glass in this iron Humvee door, I am not

in the gun turret today – its vigilance, its instant return

of fire on aggressors, is the soldier standing up beside me

through the open turret above our four seats.  I am not the driver,

today, on these crowded, dangerous Iraqi roads.  Today

I am a passenger free to think beyond this protective iron

of the world I knew before.  My eye catches a young woman’s

arms move by the road, lifting her blue headscarf

as we pass.  I wonder at her hair’s dark beauty.

Ghost Walk

On a last walk of the neighborhood, I turn into

the Little League ballpark I pass every day,

because I want to see everything now.  Staring

at each tree I’ve slowly walked evening streets.

Through the chain-link, young basemen crouch

to the aluminum clinks of a coach’s bat, and I want

to stay, hang from the fence and smell the clay,

new-cut grass, wait for popcorn and hot dogs

to float invisible in the air of dusk as warm-ups end,

bleachers fill, banks of lights on the high poles

blink on, erase growing shadows, just stay and feel

each inning crawl, on its cheers and moans, further

into the warm night.

But the dryer is off by now.  Time to turn back,

stuff newly washed clothes into a duffel, say

a soldier’s goodbyes, head to Fort Stewart

for a midnight formation.  Tomorrow we stand

in the parade field’s sun for a Senator’s send-off,

feel the last embraces of family as we board

buses for the airfield, for Afghanistan.

I long to stay here with headlights, streetlights

that buzz and power up.  At the corner, the Lutheran

Church, my breathing is a muttered regret of leaving.

In the Christ window, lit by a ground light, Jesus,

among heaven’s clouds, blesses my longing

with scarred hands.

Those Who Will Save the World

At fifteen I watched a man drown

off a Marseille beach, drawn to sit up

from a spread out towel by yells at the sea,

finding the blue Mediterranean day distorted

by a swimmer’s flailing arms, seeing the two-seater

pedal boat that rode up to him pedal back

from his violent but weakening panic.

We, the crowded beach, caught in a momentary

apraxia, some tortured by what to do, I want

the elderly couple to pedal forward, the only

chance — until a man in a business suit races

across the beach, throwing tie, shirt, leaving

his pants, diving into the sea, swimming

like an arrow.  Minutes later he carries

the limp swimmer out, starting mouth

to mouth, his confident actions reaching

in to grasp the loss of everything, pull it

to the surface.  Only when the body convulses,

coughs water, does he allow the hands

of the men with yellow vests, who have

carried up a gurney, in to take over.

This courage was not a sudden manic surge

in an unwitting savior.  I watch him step

into sandy slacks, collect brown dress shoes,

and walk away shirtless, not looking back

and wanting nothing in return.

The Last Radio Image of Voyager 1

Our idée fixe among the planets for so many years,

its 22 watt signal, slow but reliable as the camel

Marco Polo rode across the Gobi, reporting back —

Jupiter’s red eye roiling like the Devil’s iris, razor-sharp

spinning of Saturn’s rings — a final portrait, February 21,

2013, from the National Radio Observatory: tiny electron

blue fingernail piercing, opening, the farthest

fingerprint ever, a single point

in the vast black grotto

of interstellar space.

One thought on “Poetry from Steven Croft

  1. My favorite line is when the Humvee driver says of the dog in the road, “I don’t like it. Something isn’t right.” So much suspense there; we all want him to “go around.” Then he does, and someone following, tragically, proves his instinct was right.
    I like the way the shock of the war poems brings living reality to us, as it is so close to death and last chances, last moments, sudden awareness.
    It is a strange conjoining–the mission of the metal vehicle, so relentlessly in danger, and the sight of a woman passing and lifting a scarf over her beautiful dark hair.
    The longing of the young man to belong again to the ball field and to hear those importunate field lights buzz as they fire up, the clink of an aluminum bat in the coach’s hands, even the ball game snacks, hot dogs and popcorn. Such yearning, such feeling of a gulf, not just of age, blocking it, almost destroying it.
    Watching, under the prayer call from a Minaret, females in oddly picturesque subjection, heads covered, walking in a line behind a husband.
    Poetry rich and strong that “works” every time you read it–and you want it to; you want to experience that life-giving shock.

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