Installment 42 deploys vehicles (and readers) into position for military action. At once beautiful and terrifying, Steven Croft’s evocative images and tactile cadences put us in the driver’s seat of unfathomable journeys.
Entering Sadr City on Report of Troops in Contact
Long after the sun’s fireball drops behind the edge
of the desert, the sand still sweats heat onto invisible
winds. A quarter moon spins its shadows around mud brick
houses, the base of a minaret that looms.
I stand in the turret of a Humvee that’s been out
all day, the chest-high iron circle of its opening still hot
to touch like a pan pulled from an oven, electronic pops
that initiate radio calls constant, below, as details come in.
The belt of bullets locked into my machine gun a coiled,
silent snake I don’t want to come to life — they know hitting
our vehicles with gunfire and bombs will slow us — we know
we are the train headed down a dynamited track.
In the quiet before contact my face is already practicing
its muscles clench, my fingers their hard grip on the gun.
We all know death, ours, theirs, is what tonight may bring,
that we’re as caught here as the dark night’s many stars.
I stop the patrol as lead vehicle, watching the blowflies’
interest in a dead dog ahead, my movement’s dust settling
on me in the open hatch, and the LT, men call him “Eltee”
over the radio, asks for details. “Negative, no wires, nothing
around it.” But this time I won’t move, just say “I don’t like it.”
So we sit in the shimmer heat while I picture a spread out
makerspace of components in a dusty, sun-shaded house,
a bearded man’s portrait on the wall, AK resting in a corner,
think, “his house is in the village, though,” think I don’t
want to move this time.
The sun breathes an open-oven heat on us without the breeze
of movement while I think of last Friday, a heel of shrapnel
sticking out of a sergeant’s arm, the dowels of elbow tendons
visible in bloody flesh, his smiling at someone’s joke as the PA
works with sure hands, and say, “I just don’t like it.” And I won’t
move, so Eltee finally says, “Go around.” The gunner, above
me, skips a warning shot into oncoming traffic as I climb over
the road’s median, the others following my tracks.
Later, we learn over the radio how our dog rose up in a demon
roar on a patrol behind us.
Six months back from Iraq, I walk
from my father’s room, a cardiac patient
at the VA hospital–gratefully leaving
the beeps of machines, the clockwork
movements of night nurses, for the quiet
of the parking garage.
In a neighborhood of iron window grills,
neon-sign blinking corner liquor stores,
I stop at a red light, my thoughts floating
under the sodium glow of street lamps —
a flash, a blur in my side-view, feet almost
right at my window, waking awareness
like the grate of nails on a chalkboard,
my fear altering the running man’s carbon
into an imagined zombie out of night’s
bestiary– in my unarmored Volkswagon
I reach in my mind for the 9 mil my hand
knows so well, feel the ridged pistol grip
of the gun that is not there — as I slam
the gas pedal, race through the red light.
A few minutes later, circling the on-ramp,
I release the held breath, let the specter
of the man that still follows me fade, letting
the breeze of the freeway blow on my face,
letting go of the awful desire to kill.
Photo © Steven Croft