The Tears of Jonah

if i could cry enough tears
do you think it would be

at the bottom of the belly of
the great whale, jonah and i

he tells me stories of how
he has been cast ashore once

in a volcano of spewing vomit
the whale must spit you out as
a whole,

but the whale's belly is empty
and rough and shriveled skin

if i could cry enough would it
be enough tears for my tears to

me up through the belly, through
the mouth and tongue on a
wave of,

my just enough reborn tears.

We Read

hidden in closets
under the bed, slumped in
far-away corners, behind the
stove, in the henhouse, out
in the cornfields, sitting
in the silent combine, under
the tarp of the bean wagon,
we read,

everything very very fast,
who knew when he would find
us, see us reading, the endless
chores, help your mother, do
something, anything but read,
we read,

without moving or breathing,
sometimes it would keep him
from really seeing us, and
he'd leave without screaming,
and then we'd breathe again slowly,
we read,

one by one every torn book in our
school library, every worn book
in the town carnegie library, every
book we could beg our mother
to buy from the scholastic mail
reading club, we had never been
in a bookstore, and finally each night
in the bed we shared, we could both
read almost peacefully, until he screamed
at us to shut out the lights,
we read,

then to each other in the dark, whispering
again the words from the books on the floor
next to us, and finally in our sleep we could
read and read and read without interruption,
the rhythm of words and the smells of places
we would never ever get to see at all, and
we read,

oh yes, still we read.


Dear Nitty,

"Amor Fati"

You've given me a lot to think about with these latest two poems. From the various spins that have occurred as possibilities, I'll get myself going with the Jonah story itself, which I see as a means of conveying the central theme of journeying to what is called the "higher" self. This voyage is usually accomplished by the setting off on some quest or by a sudden trajectory in the opposite direction of where one was (or thought) one was going. In other words, in the first instance, one sets upon; in the second, one is set upon. That accounts for the different degrees of consent involved in these excursion experiences, ranging on the continuum from voluntary to involuntary.
In Jonah's case, one is literally swept away (if not swallowed up) by events. This type of passage can hardly be construed as anything but out and out circumstantial coercion. Jonah was thrown into the soup, and the big fish took it from there. The wayward prophet didn't have much say at that point but to go with the flow. Later on, with little to do down there, stripped of his usual props, he probably started to participate in some kind of reflection and inner industry, but this gets ahead of our discourse. I'm just trying to make a distinction here, Nitty, between a premeditated passage, when one sets out to do or find something, and that of the Jonah journeyer who sort of falls into it and gropes around for most of the trip. These two polarized positions (in reality, they're never that discrete, we tend to be highly ambivalent and complex as creatures, hence, it's always an interesting mix) are roughly the two ways we mortals have for cutting to the core of ourselves, i.e. by consciously taking up the sword and whacking the hell out of our dragon, or being swept away or eaten up by some inner or outer event beyond our conscious grasp.
Myths from all cultures seem to toe the line in this regard. Protagonists either grab the bull by the horns or trip over their shoe laces in the transformation tales presented to us throughout the ages. They (the protagonists) get hood-winked, lost, abducted, seduced, confused, led astray, and generally wind up in some kind of abyss. This is your standard descent-myth stuff, Nitty, and (just as an aside) I have observed that there's somewhat less risk in descending than in ascending. Ascensions (with the notable exception of Jesus and some eastern Kundalini gigs), can get a bit dicey (maybe because it's against the law of gravity?). Remember the Babel fellows and Icarus? Strivers all, weren't they? But you can't exactly say that they were rewarded for their efforts, at least not in the way they had in mind.
But this is not about rewards, Nitty, although, "virtue," as they say, "is its own reward," and I am taking my own kind of Cook's Tour here to get to this very notion of "virtue." I define virtue as a kind of "piety." It's a pity that both these words, to today's sensitivities, ring irrelevant. Nitty, they're not, as I know you know. Piety, according to nincompoop Nimrod here, is the virtue of loving your fate. Nietzsche put it this way; "Amor Fati." It means you love what happens to you even when what happens to you is nothing to write home about. "Amor Fati" is to go for the Grail or to get to know every nook and cranny of that fish-belly pit. "Amor Fati" is to pay attention to what is true and instructive for you; what your nature tells you about life. This is that inner industry that I referred to awhile back, and you have illustrated a part of it in your reading poem. It was in your nature as a child to reach out for the thing that seemed so vital to you. You understood on some level that this was you, and took every measure at your disposal to nurture and protect this precious resource. In essence, this sneak reading of yours was the true you insisting on life.
I do happen to believe that the "higher" self equates to the veritable self, and that we see it at work in the child drawn to expansion or growth through, in this case, books. You get my drift, Nitty? In my own case, it was (is) the woods and the trees, and above all, the animals. This is living from the inside out, like the tree that takes itself up and out through its ever-young formative cells called cambium. I subscribe to the notion that to be whole--that is, to be a complete (but not completed) "piece of work," we cannot stop drawing on our core cambium resources through the inner industry and in tuneness that fuels and perhaps even finesses our fate.
Well, Nitty, those are the thoughts that made it through to the keyboard. The next time you find yourself enduring the abysmal interior of some denizen of the deep--do bring a book! I usually sneak in my dog.
Yours in sacred confusion,

Copyright 1997 The Courage of Our Confusion. All Rights Reserved. Comments? E-mail