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Any given human being, who may or may not be Jonah, hears a bird call and asks what kind of bird makes that sound, that variable sound. The answer is always that it is a robin. Who is it that answers Jonah’s question? Could be anyone, even God, but probably not. Jonah has said that he does not believe in God. Still, how is it possible that one bird can have such a repertoire of call and song? The Hebrew meaning of “repent” is “turn” or “return,” like birds on annual migration paths. God returns like the birds.


Jonah likes perfection. Has always liked perfection. Is perfection aligned with intransigence? Jonah rips up the imperfect painting, angry that it fails perfection. In the biblical canon, Jonah is considered a prophet. But what relation does perfection have to prophecy? Does perfection create and prophecy remediate? Jonah? He was the prophet who refused to be a prophet until the tale swallowed him whole. Jonah rips up the story in disgust. (Except that the tale swallows him and then vomits him up.) Maybe perfection is straight and true, like an arrow shot at a destination. While prophecy is indirection. Jonah beats the arrow to its destination and breaks it over his knee. He is a prophet. A prophet doesn’t merely recognize error and remediate, a prophet breaks the broken thing, purposefully. Jonah once had a teacher who watched him tear up a painting in a fit of pique. “Yes!” she said. “You’ve found your art form. Now put it back together as a collage.”



Elizabeth Robinson’s poetry collection Being Modernists Together is forthcoming from Solid Objects. She has been a winner of the National Poetry Series, the Fence Modern Poets Prize, and editor’s choice awards from New Letters and Scoundrel Time.




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