Herod's Last Request
HUSBAND: When Herod came to dinner we
locked up the silver cutlery-
though king of God’s own chosen nation
he had a certain reputation.
One thing we were grateful for -
his guards remained outside the door.
They said they didn’t mind it snowing
and whiled away the time by throwing
javelins at next door’s cat
the neighbour’s curtains twitched at that.
The wife set an extra place or two
for the Ethiopian eunuchs who
he brought along to taste his food.
I said “His timing’s very good,
dropping by on Christmas Day;
we were entertaining anyway.
Herod chewed the turkey fat
and chatted about this and that-
the cost of temple services
the relative advantages
of burnt offerings and frankincense -
HUSBAND: We seemed to have his confidence
and in a weak, unguarded minute
(just like me to drop us in it)
I brought up, casually aside,
the subject of infanticide.
Remembering John the Baptist’s head
I was concerned at what I’d said
but then we saw, to our surprise,
a twinkle came in Herod’s eyes.
HEROD: “Why, don’t you know what brought me here?
Well then, I must make it clear!
I”ve come to pay my compliments
to fellows with a common n sense.
Say, don’t you think that we might be
in the same business, you and me?
I kill by violence, you neglect -
and here you’ve earned my deep respect
for I can only be selective:
your methods are much more effective.
Just let an open sewer stink,
give him no clean water to drink
or basic medical supplies
and see how quickly one child dies!
you now eliminate about - “
HUSBAND: (he took his calculator out)
HEROD: “- forty thousand every day”
HUSBAND: He smiled and put the thing away.
HEROD: “You can destroy whole continents
simply by indifference.
But though I like what you don’t do
your actions are impressive too.
You take the mineral resource,
the inexpensive labour force,
most of the profits they can earn
and then you leave them in return
Coca-Cola and Big Mac,
debts they never can pay back,
spare change you feel good in giving,
cardboard packaging to live in.
A hundred million children now
sleep on the planet’s streets somehow
apprenticed into useful trades
like prostitution, drugs and AIDS -
though I’m both cruel and sadistic
I can’t compete with that statistic.
That’s big league stuff compared to me
who butchers a baby boy (or three).
A toast is called for now, I think.
This Christmas evening let us drink
to all the damage that’s been done
by looking after Number One!”
HUSBAND: He raised his glass up to his head -
the wine it held was rich and red-
and looking round from face to face
HEROD: But we should say a grace!”
Give thanks to those in direst need
who starve so we can overfeed
and die to do us sinners good.
We eat their flesh and drink their blood.
Do this, as oft as you remember,
at least once every December.”
HUSBAND: Then Herod laughed, and drained his wine.
Somehow I couldn’t stomach mine.