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Steven Croft

War in Iraq in Seven Vignettes

Diesel exhaust from snow-topped Humvee,
revving in winter darkness to leave Al Asad Marine base,
ice crystals on the mouth of the turret gunner,
blowing water vapor through pulled up black neck gaiter.

We stop in traffic. I look left down a dusty street of houses.
On the curb, a man with a thick black mustache bends to kiss
a shamefaced girl-child on the mouth. She's held forward by
extended armsof a white-robed man in red-checkered headdress.

Cheerful medic cleaning the meat of a soldier's exposed bicep,
exploded out like an anatomy diagram. Soldier sits in sand in pain,
rolling the back of his head against the metal tread of an armored carrier.
"You'll be fine," says the smiling medic. We all truly believe him.

After the shock of IED blast, in an upturned vehicle four slack bodies
with unconscious faces are slowly consumed by licking fire.
We watch through the smoke-fogged, unbreakable bulletproof glass
of combat-locked doors. If only one was awake, could unlock a door.

Nothing visual says "this is war" like this bright blister of pointed tracers
splitting night's black curtain. Their battered Toyota truck racing from
the sound of Apache helos nearing, in night vision we see gowned
figures with AKs bail in backscatter of dust from glorious Gatling rain.

All the uniforms stink in this close press around the regulation boxing
ring outside the PX. Under the glow of generator lights, our potbellied cook
is in the Friday Night Fights, hit again and again by the taller, heavier Marine.
Until, Jones starts punching, punching. Jones wins, my battalion erupts.

With packs and weapons, we wait in twilight. C-130s always fly at night
from Baghdad International, to evade enemy fire. In my last night, I listen
to faraway gunfire. When the call comes, we gather packs, hustle in a loose
line. I plant my left boot on the tail ramp's metal, lift my right out of Iraq.

An Army veteran, Steven Croft lives on a barrier island off the coast of Georgia. He is the author of New World Poems (Alien Buddha Press, 2020).  His poems have appeared inThe New Verse News,Misfit Magazine, Live Nude Poems, Quaci Press Magazine,So It Goes, Anti-Heroin Chic, Ariel Chart, and other places, and have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.


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