Curt Last lives in Huntington Beach, California. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Pre-Law from the University of California, Santa Barbara (1994) and his Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from California State University, Long Beach (2006). He served from 2008 to 2016 as a Hospital Corpsman in the United States Naval Reserves. His duties included various Navy clinics and hospitals, a humanitarian mission to East Timor (2010), and a deployment to the Role 3 Combat Hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan (2011).
Two of his poems are below:
Another day, and a 9-Line for an Alpha comes in.
So we’re out on the flight line waiting…waiting…
until we’re out in the daylight heat for an hour
and our Alpha is now an Angel—call sign
for deceased coalition forces—which means
he could be English, Australian, Slovakian
or American, and we feel a different tension,
though not as immediate…
but much more visceral, bringing all of our hearts
down as those two Blackhawks grow from spots
in the thin blue distance from the Southeast.
The body bag is delivered to the primary vehicle
along with an escort in ACUs, as the litter crew
jumps into the back of the secondary, which follows.
I fall out the back and there’s the blue canvassed Angel;
on the skid opposite him his buddy sits, head down;
I approach the back ladder and reach out to him,
put one hand under his left arm pit, the other
around his waist, down the ladder, bearing him,
covered in Kandahar dust, bloody mouth and nose,
and he erupts in crying hysterics as I grimace while
holding his weight, guiding him into the trauma bay.
A psych tech is waiting and I let go, keep walking
back to Urgent Care, ditch my gloves in a can,
keep walking, take off my cranial, keep walking, say
a prayer, the little a Gnostic can give to a kid who couldn’t
have been more than 19 years old, dealing with the sight
of his friend in a body bag. It’s one of many images
which will always stay with me, if not for the suffering,
then for a scene which war movies mock with actors
who cannot have the level of honor, the understanding
of horror, or the quality of truth that art continually,
aggressively pleads a susceptible audiences to believe.
I do not believe in the term ‘Angel’ for it limits suffering
and places it in the hands of myths and gods.
A Room of Cries and Pain
They cry out from the darkness of that room.
Even when the lights are on,
it stays a house of pain, a hurt locker,
whatever you want your civilian mind frame
to poetically conjure;
but the young enlisted guys are DnD geeks
and gamers, and the Afghans
are yelling in pain, “Darkee!”
to get our attention, to get pain meds,
to grab for something;
and so Ward 3 has earned the dark-humored nickname
‘The Darkee Dungeon.’
You just look at our board:
You’ll see that Bed 18 has TBI and facial injuries.
Bed 19 next to him is a GSW ABD—
I’ve seen guys in ICU die after two weeks
of struggling on a respirator
with the same wound.
Bed 20 is a globe injury—eyes damaged
from an IED blast.
I’ve had to administer quarterly
eye drops to him
and change his eye shields and dressing.
Bed 22 has a head injury
and shrapnel in his back and has been
a pain in the ass—we’ve had to strap him down,
since he’s been trying to roll out of bed
and pull out his cath.
Bed 23 is a GSW/L Arm
(I almost want to yawn at that).
These are the current dwellers
of the dungeon, and the sympathy is weak,
as the cries of pain stab deep,
and young corpsmen grow callous
in the everyday of blood and trauma.
Bed 20 is a young Afghan National Policeman
with deep facial blast wounds.
After washing him, I open the little purple
Bacitracin packets, putting ointment
on my blue latex gloves,
and gently cover his skin.
Topical antibiotics aren’t the best thing,
as some wounds are filled with packing tape;
but it’s more than what most are doing
for him, and I feel for a 19-year-old kid
whose gray-misted eyes will
most likely never see clearly,
if at all. I administer his eye drops,
and am able to grab the tajiman
to help explain to him the process,
as he’s always yelling for the tajiman
in panic, as a lot of them do—
crying for pain meds, moaning aloud
“Darkee”… ”Darkee”… “Darkee”…