Cleaning House (Attar of Roses)

the urge to beautify one’s surroundings is widespread and profoundly beneficial — particularly so in the harrowing circumstances of loss, displacement, and danger.

— From an article by Stephanie Acker on the work of Devora Neumark, artist and scholar.

In the enormous plenitude of life,
intoxicating beauty abounds
with no lines in the sand,
no borders that can’t be crossed,
no children dying from hunger,
no conscienceless creatures
squatting on stolen land
and doing everything they can
to immiserate the lives of others,
denying them the smallest crumbs of humanity.

Should I pray for an end to the killing
and the birth of a restorative peace,
while a people displaced,
with nowhere left to go
and a constant hunger
filling their souls,
watch their country, their homes, their lives
go up in mountains of the blackest smoke
and find their loved ones turned to stone.

I have lost no one in this war,
but still I grieve
and want to cry out
like a priest who has lost his faith
and can only beat the earth with his fists.
I curse the whole damn lot of them —
from the ones who give the orders
to the ones who carry them out
and the many sober heads of state
nodding as one sinister cabal
in favor of killing till the war is won.

Where is the beauty in this
when so many have died?
Is it found in hospital corridors
lit with candles because the power’s been cut
and the generators have no more fuel?
Is it in places where the people shelter
and find they’ve become
convenient targets for enemy guns?

Does it festoon the streets where snipers fire
on desperate families queuing up for food,
or arise in graveyards where the dead are unearthed
and the living wait their turn?
Does it move among the rough-hewn tents
providing a semblance of home
in the blazing, blast-furnace heat
of a war that won’t end
till the beast of battle has had its fill
and there’s nobody left to kill?

There may come a day when God’s chosen army,
under a billowing Star of David,
will go forth with brooms and dust pans
to sweep up the broken glass, the heaps of rubble,
the scattered limbs, even the petrified cries
of those who died under the crush of stones,
and when the cleaning is done,
and the dust has settled,
and not a drop of blood remains,
a brigade of uniformed realtors
will sprinkle the attar of rose petals
to make the place fragrant and welcoming —
a home for the many who will come
to reclaim what was never theirs.

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 while raising funds for families in Baghdad whom he knew and with whom he continues to communicate.

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