Poetry from Steven Croft

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.