…from deep in the realm of the dead
I called for help and you listened to my cry.
Their shorn heads shined like gourds
under the fluorescent lights. Bright fish,
cut from construction paper, hung
above their beds. Tell us again, they said,
the story with the whale!
—————————–During the bit
about the storm, when the mast strained
against the wind, they clutched their dolls
or chewed their nails. And when
the lots were cast, when Jonah gave himself
to save the other men, they groaned
——–Mostly, though, they laughed
at him—the prophet made a pouting fool,
sniveling beneath the wilting vine.
But on the day they lost the youngest,
a girl named Valerie, who always asked
about the worm (How could it eat
so much? And where’d it come from?)
they listened silently.
—————————–How could a man
face that again? A perfect story,
I said, and left them dying there.
But what the scripture doesn’t tell
is that a city grew within the belly
of the great whale, a city made of salt,
a city unlike Nineveh
that Jonah could have loved: the way
it swayed so steadily in the dark,
its dwellers sleeping to the dual rhythms
of the beast’s breathing
—————————–and the waves—
how Jonah also slept, for the first time
since Joppa, a deep and dreamless sleep,
until he woke up on the sand.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.