14: 18 Old Armand [hartmannswillerkopf]
Almost silent Armand.
There were birds.
They were singing ….
[… Though they obviously hadn't read the script
And the more muted kind of respect
Required by visitor expectation
Of one of the hallowed shrines of the nation…].
None, however, seemed at all anxious
To break cover and perch like a sitting duck
Upon any one of the army of marble and granite markers
Ranged, row upon row, irrespective of rank:
Generals, Colonels, Privates and Majors
Parading in permanent, parallel immobility
Toward their own, cold immortality.
Resting places of the high-born and the low,
In death, all level now.
Strange to learn
It was far quieter back then
Up here where the lines were drawn and dug
Well within whispering range.
Silence broke out suddenly on both sides like a plague:
Sergeants still barking their bubonic commands,
But now as laryngitic shadows of their former selves -
Too many secrets to harbour and hide
From too many an enemy ear and eye;
'Til, in 1915, the silent stalemate shattered
And its loud, hot lead shards
Shrouded the hopes and hearts
Of thousands who mattered
To thousands who now
Lay entombed and battered.
The first of this far-too-Many:
One: 'Armand' –
Perhaps the eponymous 'Old Armand' himself:
Lying, first cross to the left of the left hand path
Leading down from the rather bleak memorial,
His legend [like all the countless others']:
'Mort pour la France'
Me, [I think],
I could chose to give my life for family,
For friends … possibly,
But for country?
Three or four rows on -
To the Christian headstone, a solitary exception:
For Saïd Saïd-Arab, one of Islamic tradition;
Called by dint of French colonialisation
To defend the borders of the 'Mother Nation':
Plucked from life under an African summer sky
To serve on Alsacian winter soil, wither, and die.
His marble is sadly all too new to be 'true'….
No doubt replaced after being vandalised:
Brutalised by a bunch of bigots
Advertising nothing but their own ignorance
In taking it out on the softest target
Who didn't deserve it;
And with whom the lying legions would have stood
Shoulder to shoulder, as one, if they could
To defend their comrade's humanity and honour
From those who are simply not worth dying for.
'Mort pour la France'.
The concrete commemoration platform appears to me
To be less architectural memorial and more monumental 'folly':
Sculpted after Mayan temple design
With a large bronze 'altar', North-South aligned,
Bearing reliefs all around of the regions and regiments
Whose 'young guns' were sacrificed without ceremony
To the unworthy gods of this world
Who wouldn't rank humanity over nationality.
'Mort pour la France'.
Was he … … … …?
I looked at my watch on leaving the scene:
It had stopped.