Two Poems

Crossing Croatia

In one corner of the Dolac market in Zagreb, rotten fruit and
vegetables are dumped outside the entrance of a darkly lit
tavern. Inside, unshaven men in stained clothes and dirty
fingernails drink beer in green bottles. They began unloading
produce at 4 a.m. Inside, paper plates of small prawns cooked
in a thick garlic sauce are served free. The plates and prawn
casings are discarded on top of the rotting food. Both attract
pigeons. The tavern closes at noon. Women are not welcome
and tourists avoid the smell. Some men drink too much. So
the restaurants nearby won’t let them use their toilets. So
some of the men urinate in their pants on their way home.  

In Split, in front of the white marbled Diocletian Palace, an old
man in a gray vest waits for the sugar crystals to dissolve. He then
stirs his coffee like an ancient alchemist. In 1566, his ancestors
charged 50,000 Turks across an open field. Only seven survived.
But Vienna survived. At another table under a blue awning, she
meets a girlfriend from her village, apologizes for being late, orders
a cappuccino. The cappuccino comes with a sugar cookie. A tight
black skirt inches above her knees, above smooth brown legs, above
chic sandals. A V-neck sweater outlines perfect pear shaped breasts:
a gold wedding ring, black eyes, black hair, angel white teeth, two
children, flat stomach. Her village remains poor; her husband is rich.   
Outside the walls of Dubrovnik: “Our boys climbed straight up those
hills on their bellies. Some carried only shot-guns. They drove the
Serb artillery off. Ending the shelling. Brave boys, one and all.”

Outside the walls of Dubrovnik: she wears widow black and holds a
hand made sign that reads “Zimmer.” With arthritic hands she prepares
a Bolognese sauce every morning for a nearby restaurant. Afternoons,
her daughter visits. Both of their husbands were tortured and killed.

Outside the walls of Dubrovnik: two American tourists hurry to catch
the last boat taxi. A car hits them. In the hospital they are fined $200
each and informed that pedestrian crossings are clearly marked in white.
It is their fault. They must pay. They tell everyone “Croatia is for shit.”


Government Issue

The new ammunition cases smelled of sawdust.
They had to be unloaded in thirty seconds
In the same thirty seconds, the shirtless G.I.s
also threw seven body bags onto the chopper.
The chopper lifted, left before the first mortar round.
In the air at full throttle, the Huey’s nose dropped.
In the air, opened zippers or tears in the rubber bags
allowed the body juices to escape.
In the air, the body juices soiled the pilot’s uniform
and formed pools around his boots.
After landing, he cleaned off his boots
with a green garden hose labeled Government Issue.
The body bags were labeled Government Issue.
His pants and underwear were also labeled,
Government Issue.
But on Thursdays,
they let him burn his uniform. 

 —W. Frank, Milwaukee, WI