How Do You Sleep, Mr. President?

Gaza Pieta

Do you take your Catholic upbringing to bed
and rest a rosary by your head?
Are you a prayerful man, Mr. President?
Do you pray for peace in the Promised Land
and imagine the star of Bethlehem
shining over the Chosen People,
true descendants of Abraham?

Does your bedtime prayer go something like this:
“God bless Hunter, God bless Jill,
and God bless Benjamin Netanyahu too.
May the warriors of mighty Israel
prevail over the terrorists in their tunnels,
their filthy network of burrows and bunkers
under schools and mosques and hospitals.”

In the morning, when you rise
and inspect your face in the bathroom glass,
who do you see looking back at you?
A great leader, boon to the common man,
exemplar of compassion and moral rectitude
who knows a thing or two about getting things done
and standing by friends in their hour of need?

Like Netanyahu and his various ministers,
loyal members of Israel’s Likud
who promise to liquidate once and for all
the enemy at the gate, striking without warning,
teaching their children to kill and hate,
and never resting till all of Zion and her people
are drowned like rats in the Great Sea.

Not on your watch, Mr. President, no siree.
You have Israel’s back, always have and always will
no matter what its leaders and their foot soldiers do
in the name of destiny as revealed in the Torah.
Joe, I have a revelation for you. It came in a dream.
I saw you standing on a stage somewhere
with Old Glory and the Star of David trading smirks.

As you were speaking, a woman made her way
through a multitude of rapt listeners
receiving your words like Communion wafers
signifying the flesh and blood of our nation
and the restorative power of military might.
The woman held something in her arms,
and her eyes burned like fire.

Could this be her, you wondered
letting the lessons of Sunday school
fall in folds of Marian blue
over your fading eyesight.
For a moment you saw Mary,
mother of Jesus, aka Maryam
who brought forth the prophet Isa.

Madonna with child, yes, a miracle indeed,
you imagined as you fell to your knees.
But this was no beatific vision
of the Blessed Virgin Mary
with a shimmering golden halo
and the radiance of divine grace.
No, this was a woman in peril.

A woman who had seen the light
from a thousand midnight bombs
falling on families quick as the knife
slitting the throat of the Paschal lamb.
Now she has come to you, her last resort
in this time of sacrifice and slaughter
when there is nothing to consume but prayer.

There are no mystical roses in her hands,
no blue mantle adorning her dress.
The fire in her eyes grows sharper.
Her clothing is tattered and stained.
Smears of blood, ashes, and dust
enflame her face.
Look at her, I cry in my sleep.

Look at what she enfolds in her arms.
Hear what she’s trying to tell you.
Open your bloody heart to this woman.
In my dream, you turn away
and signal security to seize her.
But she stands her ground
holding her broken and bleeding child.

Another pietà, eh, Mr. President?
A living tableau of dead Jesus on mother’s lap
as fixed in that Florentine’s miraculous creation?
No, Joe, this is the real deal
not in my dream but in Palestine, in Gaza
now — on your watch, with your active support
and that of liberal icons like Warren and Sanders.

For God’s sake, look at that woman’s child,
crushed to death when her school was bombed
in yet another “defensive” attack
blessed by the butcher of Jerusalem,
Benjamin Netanyahu, your brother in arms.
She is one of thousands — thousands, Joe,
you have let die horrible, unforgiveable deaths.

In the face of this catastrophic crime,
all you can muster from the piety of your high office
and the aggregate wisdom of your Cabinet
is a pathetic scrap of mercy, “a humanitarian pause”
since, in your words, innocents dying
is “the price of waging war.”
Well, Joe, my words go something like this:

Shame on you, Mr. President,
for betraying the seminal values of your faith,
for putting strategic interests and loyalty to Israel
over and above the beck and call of humanity.
Do you truly believe a greater good will derive
from driving a people off their lan
and slaughtering the ones left behind?

What will it take to reach you, Joe,
since signs, letters, marches have so far failed?
Maybe a bit of iconography will do the trick.
Picture this: a vast expanse of rough-hewn crosses
where families weep in unison.
On each cross, a child of Gaza is nailed
for the supreme sin of not being Jewish.

On their way to the blessed garden of Ibrahim,
may these purest of souls one day come to you
neither to forgive nor frighten but to pray
your eyes will open and you will begin to see
the suffering you have abetted,
the lives you might have saved,
the evil you excuse as just retribution.

George Capaccio is a writer, poet, and performer now living in Durham, North Carolina since migrating from the Boston area. Beginning in the 90s, his concern for the people of Iraq under U.S.-imposed sanctions led him to make numerous trips to Iraq as a witness to the effects of these sanctions. At home, he advocated for their lifting through writing and public speaking.

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