I knew a whale in California who said it was a descendant of the great fish God prepared for Jonah. On the darkest nights when everyone felt alone, it told great stories of the great fish. Often, it would chuckle as it spoke of its ancestor. The young whales would honor it by not interrupting. The older whales would listen stoically. The whale said its ancestor was floating without purpose when God called it out for basic training. It would swallow a large air pocket that would bivouac a human being until he was willing to continue his mission. It would even foreshadow Christ when he descended into the lower part of the earth for three days and three nights between the cross and the resurrection. The whale was to follow a ship bobbing in the theater of a storm. Even fish can see a tossing ship. There are storms underwater also. When whales jet to the depths and come up again, stirring storm warnings among the fish. But what did God say to the whale? That’s what we asked. Was the great fish like the dog with a favorite toy in its mouth that won’t let go no matter how hard you shake its head back and forth? Did God have to tap the throat of the great ancestor so it would vomit Jonah on the shore? Did it belch the air pocket also in which Jonah thrashed, being a weenie who would moan to God about a gourd and the hot sun on his head more than the destruction of the great city of Nineveh? Old stories are stored in the blubber and carried for centuries for nights that act as seats in an empty theater and pull the stories to them that have traveled down the generations like a row of whale bones on the shore with an unending trail back to Jonah who didn’t want to obey God, but I ask you who does? The way on certain nights old men who have been soldiers talk of war when a loneliness rises from the brain and swallows them in the battle tucked inside the mind where missiles fly and burn the night air followed by the smell of sulfur across the wind. As maybe Jesus told his disciples he had been in the lower part of the earth when he saw them again on the road to Emmaus. And how he understood Jonah in the whale after being there. And everyone wished they could hear the sound of the voice of God when he spoke to a great fish.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.