Liber Jonae CAPUT ONE Page TETH


Nineveh, then, still stands, still exists?

It's lost a lot of charm, but yes, it stands.
Cities like that will never quite fall.
They slowly sink into the ground instead,
Easing under brickwidth by brickwidth,
In inches per year, clay reclaimed by clay.
Once Nineveh lost its divine support,
It no longer had spine to drive for height
And now would rather relax into slack.
Assur, its god, has grown feeble in mind
Ever since that bath attendant Zu
Stole his power and fled to earth to hide.

A Zu, I've heard, is part man, part bird.
I thought that jet travel wiped out Zus,
A species too stupid quite to realize
You can't copulate with so large a plane
And not end up squashed under the tires
Or sucked through the turbines and atomized
With just a soft whup to mark departure.

No, that's something else, not the Zu.
It's a smallish kind of flightless biped,
A most treacherous pest, by all reports,
That feeds habits by robbing other nests.
Assur must've already lost a lot
Of both mental function and common sense
To give such a creature a trusted post.
As Assur hid glory behind shower curtains
And lathered suds in his armpits and crotch,
The Zu took the chance to rifle his pants
And purloined Assur's Diner Club card,
A fifty, and change of sixty-three cents.
So distraught by this loss has God become
That Nineveh the Holy has hit the skids.
Its streets are prowled by drug-addicted thieves,
By teen prostitutes, armed biker gangs,
And homeless men who sleep in alleyways
And shout obscenities at grey-crazed skies.

Nineveh's state reflects that of its God?

That's it, he said, theology condensed.
He now gives his town little attention.
Once his pride, his treasure, his chosen ground,
It no longer stirs his recognition.
Now God looks down around the Tigris
With just a puzzled expression on his face.
Nowadays Nineveh's football team,
Clumsy rookies and crippled old-timers,
Places a distant last every year.
Let's be honest: the place is just a dump
Occupied by losers, managed by fools.
But that's now. Nineveh still ruled the world
During the days in which the bird appeared.

Which bird's that? I said. Parrot or Zu?

The parrot. The Zu never reappeared.

So, the city's Inquisitors were stymied
By that crime for which the toy was a clue.
Did the killer they sought escape justice?

The days went by, then weeks, then years,
And the heinous murder remained unsolved.
Using modern forensic psychology,
A profiler speculated the crime
Bore the mark of an enraged psychopath,
The work of a deranged nutcase begripped
By acute personality deficit.
This guy, he said, is a real sicko
And published six papers to prove his point,
With indexed pie chart data attached.
The press dispensed with all close argument
And ran page one the gory photographs
Under the headline "Nineveh Ripper!"
The press knew, on gut instinct alone,
That this was a serial killer at work.
Simple induction soon verified it
After the next unsolved murder occurred.
Every subsequent suspicious death,
Not already linked to someone else,
Was therefore the work of the same monster,
For why compound causes when one will do?
He'd often kill three, four times a day,
Kill once, wait an hour, and kill again.
There were, too, the simultaneous crimes,
One murder up north, another south,
And too far apart to travel by cab.
This wasn't just a serial killer
But worse, far worse, one that's parallel.
What amazed police the most was how
He changed not only the way he appeared
But even the very DNA
He'd leave behind at each new crime scene.
And each one padded statistics further
Until he ranked as leading cause of death
In most parts of Mesopotamia,
Just ahead of old age, brain cancer,
Strangulation of temple prostitutes,
And freak falling brickwork accidents.
He was a modern murder virtuoso,
Master of all modus operandis,
As handy with poison as gas chainsaws,
And endowed with superhuman stamina,
Still killing well into his nineties,
Well after most have buried the hatchet.
The toy bird, an electrified parrot,
Remained warehoused in a subbasement
Of the massive brick Ministry of Justice
Until eventually cops sold it off
In an annual evidence clearance sale.
It then passed through the hands of collectors,
As a trophy for the true crime fanatic,
The infamous Ripper's murder weapon
In that first, legendary butchery.
Somewhere along the way the Jihad
Came upon it and smashed it into pieces,
Judging it an inducement to idolatry,
It reminding them, somehow, of Dhul-Nun.
This came at a moment in the movement
When his likeness was observed everywhere,
In graffitti and mudstains on walls,
In statuary, in the dolls of children,
In natural formations of stone and cloud,
In faceprints on washcloths, in tea leaves,
In ink blots, in ice cubes in rum ads.
How they could recognize his likeness,
Since its depiction was strictly forbidden,
Is a mystery that no one can explain.
The parrot, now in pieces, was acquired
As a holy relic by the Hierarchs,
As a memento of their founder, the prophet.
And that, I believe, is how matters stand,
The fragments stored away in a shoebox.
To piece that relic back together
With model airplane glue squeezed from tubes
Is sin too deadly even to mention
Among the prophet's well-armed proponents.
They won't pause to seek your mitigation,
They won't shirk duty to decapitate,
To remove sin's grinning, offending head.
And yet it's believed to have a mystic force,
This parrot in thirty plastic pieces,
And faithful gather near its box to bask.
Were it not for a power seeping out,
Like water from subterranean springs,
To feed the world's heedless population,
They'd all be dead, just automatons
Stepping through a stiff, pre-set routine.
Or so pilgrims believe, a simple folk.

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