SPOTLIGHT: New World Poems by Steven Croft


In the gate video it didn’t appear
like the souped-up deathmobile
in Animal House, just another
dusty sedan making a sudden turn
into our ECP

But the scrape of car metal against
low profile concrete barriers
sang discordant black magic spells
into the audio, until the flower
of the explosion that rose —
and stopped me that morning
as I walked, my boots planted
in the sand in awe

and disarray clouds the camera
with sand, spills the banks
of the video monitor, runs,
its immanence terrifying,
a camel spider’s crazy zigzag
over everywhere in the camp
swinging its murderous head
in its hands

I talk to my friend a month later
after his easy days in the hospital
tell him how we watched him turn
from the car bomber and run
until seconds later the picture
went black with smoke and sand,
let the scene loop from the blast
to the revenant driver darting in
again from the road, my friend

and he tells me about the face
he stared into for the time it takes
to lift a rifle, both fear and hatred
in the eyes, how he turned to run —
for seven seconds in the video —
for his life, for his family
seven thousand miles away,
until a speed of sound rippling
of shrapnel laid him down
to sleep

Fear Response, APO Baghdad

A week of demobilization training after landing
at Hunter Army Airfield and I am home three days,
reintroducing the hierarchy of needs slowly,
going out for the first time in the evening line
outside my hometown’s movie theater

A careless garbage truck gets the tilt wrong,
a dumpster slides free several feet to concrete —
a car bomb’s bow shock to the soul beginning
memory’s complex attack — adrenal storm
in the careful thumb-turn of a rifle’s ‘fire’
selector switch, a strange soothing in the smell
of smoking sulfur, firing pin slapping bullets

In the Doppler effect of a receding sound,
my mind wondering, wandering, a physically
felt ache to be home — I see the ticket window’s
times, prices for a movie — sulfur giving way
to the parking lot’s early spring azaleas


Desert wind’s rotor wash of sand blowing
the white gowns of two turbaned men ahead,
our demon bowl the radio frequency jammer —
green electronic box behind the back seats —
fails to ward: the circuitry of its spell
overcome, the desert floor exploding up,
a monster sand genie’s sudden release,
but the iron vehicle holds back the assault
of sand, shrapnel striking bulletproof glass
in a devil-driven hail.

Rocking of the Humvee, our kevlar helmets,
settles, our wish to be alive granted, all okay
except the driver’s neck, ruled a sprain later —
the popping of Motrin between complaints —
and my ruined molar cracked in the teeth-clench,
every body muscle hardening against the blast.
My friend says honestly in the seat beside me
“I’m good,” since two years will pass for his back
to collapse into spinal surgery.

But the monster followed us home. Visits now
the unprepared, the undeserving, the innocent
who’ve never called for fire, okayed a responding
radio request to kill, who have never known
just when to cover the ears after loading
an artillery shell — who are not in the habit
of facing a daily madness into a dark night,
another day — this sort of monster that now
visits them, unknowing draftees into explosions
that take legs away under running shorts,
contest numbers the only protective plate
on the armor of a bloody t-shirt — now he looks
through the windshield at people trained only
to enjoy a pleasant afternoon. Nowhere a savior
to call him out of his possessed truck, he drives it
through a mother’s daily prayers for the kids
ahead of him like a loaded artillery round,
the whir of the revved engine and his cry
for death.


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