Wednesday, August 06, 2008


And should I not pity Ninevah, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle ?

-- God,  (Jonah 4:11)

Nine and a half miles out, Leviathan
patrols the western edge of Paradise.
A disturbance, shuddering up from bedrock,
has clouded the water worse than hurricane.
Nothing he knows of ocean, earth or air
explains it. Nothing , he thinks, since Jonah
has so furrowed the face of the deep, when
for twelve tides the pallid quadropus
babbled through its blowhole in the black
God-appointed gut. Prayers ricocheted
from tail fluke to baleen. "Who can catch
Leviathan with a fishhook ?" Talk about
rhetorical questions. It’s all belly,
His; we listen, obey -- a lesson we learned
at our mother’s teat slits, but now, now
something new has burrowed into Eden.
It inches out from Ninevah, and bubbles
up through vents where petrified men’o’war
crouch, medusa-struck, enthralled: prodigal water,
back from the bellies of the bumbling Ninevites
back from the "omasi psalterii" of their cattle,
back smelling of penitence not innocence,
incense on stink. Sickened, Mysticetes dives
"in profundis," toward the speakerless clamor,
the voice Jonah ignored. Nothing fools him,
whale-called-the-mouse; eyes closed, he falls
through fathom after fathom, following
the salt green spirals of "thy will be done,"
following the ramifications of water
out of the tainted harbor to their source.

"Outfall" refers to the 9 mile long pipe that delivers the treated efflux of Boston's Deer Island sewage treatment plant into Boston Harbor. This is an old poem, circa 1998, part of a long sequence called "QABEN," inspired by the construction of the Quabbin Reservoir which entailed razing several small towns.

I have always been charmed by that last verse of Jonah and its image of the clueless, pitiable Ninevites and their cattle. (Or, in the NRSV, "animals" --)

I've probably posted this poem before. I have an abnormal fascination with public water supplies and sewage treatment; I have a streak of technology geek in me, as well as a fixation of matters of contamination and purity. I toured the Deer Island plant as research for my poem.

If this seems random, it is: I've been spending many hours with Dad who's recovering well after some setbacks (leg infection), and now I'm back to work. So writing, reflecting, photographing are all on the back burner.

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