Steven Croft


morning –

Dusty house stuccoed by desert sand,
Sadr City thinning north into farmland,
we roll in on a $500 informant’s tip.
A song thrush flits cheerfully through
sunlit branches of the courtyard’s cedar.

Inside, a shadowy place: main room
floor covered with intricately woven carpets,
low red couches along walls, red-brown
curtains pushed aside from casement windows.
Another room visible from a cased opening,

Bright extension cord to the courtyard’s
silent generator leads us like an orange spoor
to this room of four sweat-stained mattresses,
several floor candlesticks. Cups of tea rest on
an octagonal coffee table like someone just left.

Then another, heavy, door opened like a door
of horrific perception, and we pull hooked
flashlights from body armor: shackles hang
down from bolts in the far wall, the big-armed
wooden chair with leather belts for arms,

Legs, a board table with knives, pliers laid
out, power drill, electric lamp hooked
to the extension cord, dark stains color
all: drill bit, floor, knives, the stained fabric
sheet over a body on the floor, which

Pulled back by my rifle’s muzzle, hides
silent screaming shock in unblinking eyes.

afternoon –

The camera's gps signal brings us, searching,
street by street, the Army's obsession with
equipment the hound at our backs, until
a Humvee gunner spots a white wing
tipping in a chamber pot pond banked
by a crumbling mud wall.

Sniper in the area over a week, special forces
called in after our casualty -- he got our Raven,
its big model airplane white clipped from the sky,
spun into this nightmare of sewage.

Our dismounts are cautious, gunners spin
on turret rails, scanning windows over
stretched ropes of laundry.  A teen moves
to us with the cheerful, needy pleading
of Iraqi kids, "For American dollars.”

Pointing to his chest, to the plane's wing,
back to himself.  Told "No" by a sergeant
who motions him away with an arm, the kid
ducks under like a scrappy knife-fighter,
"For American dollars."

We talk of some kind of hook tied to 550 cord,
tossed out.  Decide someone could go back
to camp but by then it would be dark, we'd
hold position too long, expect to take fire.

Dark, in the canyons of sand-colored houses,
just one of our enemies.  "For American dollars."
I think -- as a staff sergeant unsnaps body armor,
fishes a five from a velcroed ID wallet,

Before the kid wades into the waste’s benthic
infections: if we leave he'll go after it anyway,
and anyway, I know he'll look for us tomorrow,
smiling, in a fresh tunic.

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