Seeing Desperate Lives The photos make me feel a hundred years old: Schoolroom made rubble, skeletal steel frames of desks somehow standing, withstanding the blast; exhausted fireman sitting in the living room of a burning house, admitting defeat; woman with concerned face dappled by sun through leaves of her yard's beautiful trees leaving her village house, one forearm holding a fluffy white kitten, its face buried in her shoulder. They are desperate, and I tire of mainlining their anxiety, so I look up from the phone into my rearview, at the sun-scorched asphalt -- the road beyond my yard's tree cover is molten with summer sun. I wheeled in and looked up Ukraine, like I do at least once a day, and it makes me feel a hundred years old. So, I do the only thing I can think of to forget: step out of my pick-up, take shoes off toe to heel, pull off socks, walk my pine straw and oak leaf drive onto the sizzle heat of road, and its sudden tactile feel in the flesh of my feet consumes me. And I am here, now, away from war, and soon I am young again, walking barefoot the hot paved parking lot to the state park spring that began a river in Florida, that mine and two other families caravanned to in summers, the hours of swimming, the picnics in a blanket of grass by sedges, herbs, and wildflowers at river's edge. Until -- the burn's ministry becomes too much, and I walk back onto the cool of pine straw, open the truck door for the phone, look again at the places I will never go to anymore. After Russia invaded, I talked with my Iraq vet friend David who told me of two acquaintances who went into Ukraine to rescue the in-laws of one of them, native Ukrainians, and I said I could no longer handle war psychologically: my mind hearing the ominous thump of helicopter rotors, distant artillery, pounding "danger close" seconds later, high flying planes, birds of prey dropping dots of bombs that ride gravity's slipstream to earth, plowing earthquakes that reverberate, spit heat and flame against everything natural. He tells me of the healing power of yoga, how he's started yoga teacher training. Next time we talk, I'll have to tell of walking a hot street. I look again at one of the photos. I'm well removed now, twice, through the lens of the camera, through the lens of the phone, but I remember the pain of watching starving dogs being shot by laughing Iraqi soldiers, and I wonder where the woman will take her cat. Year 2, Ukraine It was last year that the shelling first disturbed the deep time of an old village, hub for farmers and beekeepers Now tanks roll into the square again, one crushing the stone walls of a central fountain, old coins fall with the water from its heavy treads In the corner of the square, from the alley by the Armenian church, a shadow strides, moves into the square Pacing here and there erratically, palm to temple, this walking wound gathering breath to force insults in growing gasps This man whose family was killed in last year's shelling The Polish radio says his government is winning, at 10:00 and 5:00 daily He thinks the war has already gone on forever Bitterly, he thinks the war has already killed him A soldier shouts "Khokhol!" in the language of bears Waving him closer from the height of his round, iron hatch, the soldier points a pistol This dead man loads his mouth with more insults and rushes forward Into the loop of everlasting war In the sky's drizzle on his face are tears that were once salty seas Prayer for a Savior Come for your gentle people who shudder in this darkness bring your sovereign brightness unbreakable shield of goodness let misfortune, famine, disease, war, become faraway sounds make them gray at the temples, let them fade away give us a spell of warm sun, soft winds, clear rain over green valleys we know death is stronger than suffering -- may you open its horizon of strength in this living season and forgive our fragile clay, wounded hearts, that for heaven's peace can't wait.
A US Army combat veteran, Steven Croft lives happily on a barrier island off the coast of Georgia on a property lush with vegetation and home to various species of birds and animals. His poems have appeared in Liquid Imagination, The Five-Two, Misfit Magazine, Eunoia Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, Synchronized Chaos, and other places, and have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.