THREE JONAH POEMS

by Keith Schlegel


"Your Code Name is Jonah"
(after the “choose your own adventure” book by Edward Packard)

Jonah (he said): Your nose knows just the touch of stench;
Your hands see not;
your eyes draw the darkness;
Your mouth can neither feed nor smoke.

So. Listen. I,
Jahwe,
Speak.

Come, come—
Nineveh waits, in a whale of a mess.
Spain’s wattles are not for you, no how,
Believe me.

What does your Seiko say?
Can your digits tell
Big hands from little hands?
It’s time… it’s time…

In my ocean, my whales swim minnow-small;
Yet all—all
Is prepared. I know I’ll change my mind.
Change yours.

Think. One hundred twenty thousand and
Cattle!

Jonah (I say): Arise and go now.
Look through the mouth of day.
Meet, greet the dawn down.
Wake in his wake.
Rise-up sweet slug-a-bed
Plant your pity; give your forty days.

You’re my type, and
I’m behind you all the way,
Jonah.

(From Nightsun #2, 1982)


"Jonah in the Soup"

I’m in for it now.
This stilling of the water is for the sailors’ sake,
Not mine.
And they are, within my hearing, whimpering still
Their fear, their thanks, their promises.
And here I wait, upon the Lord’s petulant sea.
I told them to throw me over.
Tell me, how might I have known before
What even now, after this sign, is uncertain?
If every man followed every sign every time
And if all voice-like sounds we hear
Or think we hear
We obeyed, then
How should we be men at all?

I was asleep earlier. . .
I mean no disrespect.
It’s just that I have vagrant thoughts,
And anyway, am I a bird, a beast, a fish
To jerk to impulse not my own?

And say I knew, I really knew, what then?
I have no skill in speaking,
And Nineveh from what I’ve heard, is no Gomorrah,
And He’s relented before, with Isaac,
And there are
Others.

Hst! What’s that? a certain whoosh,
A wave slapping my ear?

A sudden shadow in the form of a shape advances.
I’m in for it now.

(From Nightsun #3, 1983)



"Jonah in Nineveh"

For long days, hot among the ashes
In which they sat, I walked.
They burned, of course, and so did I.
Fair, if effects be chained.
Worth it, if justice is final,
Confirming consequence from cause.
Fair if the predictable,
Just is the certain,
When we know.

“The End is Near,” I cried,
Until the syllables grew hoarse,
My soles blistered,
And the straps of the sandwich boards
Cut my shoulders.
So what if they fasted, and wept, and prayed?
Too little, too late.
Should a three-day fast abolish
Decades of excess?

This is why I fled before:
That fate not be fickle and that I
Not burn like this.
I sought a bower
Bereft of promised ill,
Your promise.

So let me die, ashamed,
Made a liar by your lies.
You repent your revelation; let me
Repent my repentance, and theirs.
You changed your changeless mind!
(No, but as nature and this city grow, pity grew.
Limitless pity makes all large and new.)

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