As Iraq runs dry, a plague of snakes is unleashed
“The Desert Horned Viper lurks in sand, only eyes, nostrils and horns above the surface…Swarms of snakes are attacking people and cattle in southern Iraq as the Euphrates and Tigris rivers dry up and the reptiles lose their natural habitat among the reed beds…six people have been killed and 13 poisoned…’People are terrified and are leaving their homes…We knew these snakes before, but now they are coming in huge numbers. They are attacking buffalo and cattle as well as people.'”
Introduction to Zahf al-Jafaf
I wrote this poem in mid-August of 2001, less than a month before September 11th. It hadn’t rained in weeks and my garden was drying up; I was following the progress of the terrible drought that had been devastating much of the Middle East for two or three years, and the terrible colonialism and imperialism that has been ravaging the region since Napoleon invaded Egypt 200 years ago. I felt something in the air, and wrote it down. Zahf al-Jafaf has been published in The Book of Hope (Iceland), Waters of West Virginia magazine, Waters of Wisconsin Magazine, and the Journal of the Wisconsin Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Zahf al-Jafáf (Drought’s Crawling Reptile Army)
And suddenly stopped.
The earth echoed for awhile.
Then was silence.
The static hiss of drought
Rattled its snaky husk,
Dragged its desiccated belly
Toward our town,
Wrapped itself around our throats
And plunged its fangs
Deep into a refreshing well of blood.
One drop escaped.
It trickled to the earth,
Tickling the parched grass with its red
And silver tongue.
Faint laughter from the dusty graves
Of our forgotten ancestors arose,
And segued into echoes
–Kevin Barrett, August 2001