This is the official blog of Northern Arizona slam poet Christopher Fox Graham. Begun in 2002, and transferred to blogspot in 2006, FoxTheBlog has recorded more than 670,000 hits since 2009. This blog cover's Graham's poetry, the Arizona poetry slam community and offers tips for slam poets from sources around the Internet. Read CFG's full biography here. Looking for just that one poem? You know the one ... click here to find it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Devil’s Gardens

The Devil's gardens was the name given by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, commander of the German Afrika Korps during World War II, to the defensive entanglements of land mines and barbed wire protecting his positions at El Alamein in late 1942.

During the 'break-in' phase of the battle, British commander Lt General Bernard Montgomery planned for engineer troops supporting infantry brigades of 2nd New Zealand Division to clear lanes through the minefields along which attacking formations would pass into the Axis positions.

Engineers using hand tools were supplemented by Scorpion tanks equipped with rotating flails to explode anti-vehicle mines.

These did not work as well as had been hoped and manual methods of clearing had to be resorted to.

This would have been more difficult, had the minefields not been sown with relatively few anti-personnel mines.

An estimated 3 million mines were laid before the battle,
most of which remain in position to this day, becoming more unstable as the years pass and injuring local people who use the area.

The Devil’s Gardens
For Soultan Saad, Faiez Fadiel, Mastour Moftah and thousands of other landmine victims in Egypt and around the world

"Allah, most gracious, most merciful, hear my prayer"
"Allah," the name of God in Arabic
"Allah" is pronounced with the flip of tongue over vowel
"Allah" is the only word she can still speak without sounding funny
she wonders if Allah will hear her prayers if he can't understand them
she can still pray to Allah,
but acknowledging his prophet
"Muhammad, peace be upon him,"
leaves her lips strained to wrap around the consonants
so she prays once extra time each day to compensate,
hoping that if he can't hear her,
he can see her faithfulness
and have mercy

"Allah, most gracious, most merciful, hear my prayer"
beneath sand it waits
it waits for the Desert Rats
a rattlesnake of tin and steel hate
wrapped around patriotically packed powder
fuses primed to strike for King and county
it waits for Nazi jack books to pound the soil
it waits to leap into the air
become a momentary burst of sun
suicide itself into oblivion and save Egypt and the Empire
it waits for an enemy offensive that never came
it waits still
alongside 16 million brothers

but the Nazis never came
exhausted, depleted and running on fumes
Field Marshal Edwin Rommel retreated from El Alamein
and Gen. Bernard Montgomery chased him to the sea
but the explosive fortress wall lurks
buried in the sand
ever vigilant
ever alert

From Egypt to Tunisia
shattered tank carcasses are unmarked coffins
for rival imperialists
the Saharan sand buried burned and shot soldiers
swallowed their tanks, guns and shells
swallowed them alongside the swords
of Crusaders and Saracens,
Romans and Carthaginians
the Saharan sands believe in no deities
the sand were here before them all:
Allah, Yahweh, Jehovah, Zeus, Ra, Amon, Tanit and Ba'al Hamman
the sand will outlast them as it always has
it swallows the monuments, the tombs, the names
the sand covers all

Noora al-Hayiz knew this
before Allah, her family prayed to different names
the Bedouins changed names with the times
but the sand was always the same

"Allah, most gracious, most merciful, hear my prayer"
Noora knew these sands were dangerous,
predators will stalk your goats,
her father warned,
hyenas and jackels will hunt them,
but not you,
her father gave her a gun,
taught her to shoot to scare,
her mother said
the only men you'll find out there beyond the hills
are other Bedouins,
and if they do not know you,
they know your father,
and Bedouins can be trusted

beyond the hills,
Noora knew the stories
her father's fathers had scavenged the scrap from tanks
his father's fathers had found the bones
of nameless Turks and Christians, Greeks and Phoenicians
who fought the sands and lost

she knew the Nazis turned here
and the British chased
but who they were or why they fought
made no difference
the Bedouin have faith in the sand
and the sand never changes

"Allah, most gracious, most merciful, hear my prayer"
was all she remembers
all she could scream out to the desert wind
when the landmine leapt to its purpose
detonated into a starburst
gave 68 years of pent-up rage release
from a war ended decades before she was born

"Allah, most gracious, most merciful, hear my prayer"
the mine cleaved foot from ankle
left her limping in the sands
to walk six miles back to her camp,
the mine
scarred her face with shrapnel
left her unable to speak Arabic poetically
left her unable to smile
left her unable to properly pray

Noora gets on her knees to pray
six times a days
her mother doesn't understand why
her father can't bear the sight of her
his broken jewel of daughter

"Allah, most gracious, most merciful, hear my prayer"
military historians don't include her name
in their essays
no monument inscribes her name into the final tally
Noora is another casualty,
another body added to the numbers of those who fell at El Alamein
68 years after the battle
65 after the peace
the nations who fought have buried their enmity
only memories and mines remain
Noora asks Allah for mercy
but knows he will not answer

instead, she asks the sands
to swallow the mines
she asks the sands
to let the mines find peace and sleep
alongside all those unnamed soldier
alongside all those unprayed-to gods
who still lay buried and nameless
find peace and sleep until they, too,
dissolve into the sands and blow away

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