The First Stone

Gaza Children Palestine

If it were me in Palestine
and I found you on a stretcher
in a shell-shocked hospital,
I would kneel beside you
and take your hand in mine,
wipe the blood from your face
and pray for God to stop the bleeding
even as more wounded are hurried in.

I would hold you in my arms
and tell you one day we will go back
to our birthplace in the north
and the house that still stands,
the house of stones and time-tested stories
giving our lives their distinctive grace.
One day that house will be ours, I promise,
as it was my father’s and his father’s too.

Remember the sea, ya habibti,
and how it spread before us
like a vast blue promise of peace,
and those tough old olive trees
our parents cherished
for their unyielding resistance
to the coldest winters
and brutal bands of settlers.

As I hold you closer
and feel your breathing fade,
I will recall the garden
you loved so dearly,
the one your parents nursed
with love and patience
over many hard-fought years.

We will draw water from the well,
the sweetest coldest water
from the well our ancestors dug.
It is there, waiting for us to return
to the almond trees in bloom,
and the bushes of jasmine
whose flowers, you said,
wore the perfume of paradise.

In the evening, breezes off the sea
will carry tales from far away.
We will gather outdoors with our family
to have sugared tea by candlelight
with leaves of mint from the garden,
and help ourselves to ripened figs
and slices of oranges from the orange tree
as we wait for my father, Hajji Salim, to begin.

Once the tobacco is patted down
and the coals have begun to glow
he will put his hand over his heart,
the place where his stories are kept,
and set them free like fire flies
in the fragrant air of a moonlit night,
while drawing on his water pipe
and exhaling clouds of scented vapor.

He will tell us of times gone by
when no one came to take our land
or shackle the beauty of our lives
in the cuffs and chains of occupation.
In the turmoil and horror of the ER,
I will press your hand to my heart
and feel your pulse’s little bell
ringing faintly, ever more faintly,

then too faintly to hear.
I will not know what to do
when I look at you, my love,
closer to me than my very own eyes.
I will not know what to do
but cry for help as others cry
for loved ones killed by Israeli arms
or pulled from the wreck of blown up shelters.

Someone will surely come,
and they will close your eyes
with the gentle sweep of their hand,
and it will be done.
I will weep inconsolably
and say God’s name till my breath
has burned away
and I too will be gone

from this life into another
where I will push open the hospital gate.
Snipers may lock me in their sights,
but I will stand my ground.
If a statement is to be made,
I will make it then
with the first stone that fits my hand
like the ancient soul of my native land.

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 stay in touch.

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