Why nine, she said, and not, say, nineteen?
Because it's last, as high as they then went,
Before, mod ten, they'd just start again,
Or go transfinite and fall apart,
Right side okay, but left side a mess.
And because most of the city was complete
Before the tempered scale reached perfection
And circles of fifths cartwheeled onstage,
And because each building sings solo,
The town's polyphonies are just discord.
The symmetries and perspectives thus produced
Are apt to give the unwary visitor
A severe and often fatal headache.
And permanent residents of Nineveh
Can be distinguished at once by their crossed eyes
And by their off-key, off-pitch humming
Of phrases from that once-popular tune.
These auditory hallucinations,
Friend parrot, indicate malfunction.
Truly, Marguerite, the pipes are playing:
Water hammers, pressure surges, airlocks.
It's the noisy plumbing hidden in walls
That shudders, rattles, roars out its music
To rouse sleeping mystery into view.
It's how nature binds seen to unseen,
Combines with one half-hearted harmony
All disparate things, far-flung atoms,
Disconnected events, chance encounters.
Such unification's always ugly,
Always contrived, always artificial,
But nonetheless always sincerely meant.
It's invisible gods you worship here.
Rare rains, otherwise forever lost,
Are collected together and drained forward,
Water going forth as thirst goes back.
Yes, there's waterworks throughout the land,
Inside walls and underneath the streets
With no other meaning to guide design
That that of ill-informed engineering.
If Ninevites didn't desire the One,
The one that Ig-Galla impersonates,
They'd never have defaced it with their ditches,
Water mains, sewage lines, aqueducts.
That sounds like an urban myth, she said.
Nineveh is nothing like that, parrot.
It's a place of quiet tree-lined streets,
A place of wide canals, pleasant temples,
Where dwells a decent God-fearing folk
Who wish to live out their lives in peace...
...And amass monstrous, useless heaps of wealth.
But even that wouldn't be so bad
If they'd do it without the sound effects.
It's the constant noise of great Nineveh
That will most offend those who arrive here.
Some of the less-experienced travellers,
On first encounter with high noise levels
Inside this town's tall ceramic walls,
Will gag, vomit over their camel's neck.
The least experienced travellers vomit
Not over but onto the camel's neck,
And these the gatekeepers deny entry.
Gatekeepers, no matter what their gate,
Are fastidious when it comes to camels
And keep watch for any unkempt mounts
Lest the town's traffic dwindle in beauty
And bring disrepute upon its rulers.
And even before all the slot machines,
Even before the unpleasant perspectives,
Even before the massive ziggurats
And tall, shabby, ramshackle tenements,
The first feature noticed will be the noise.
And it was the noise that humanity makes
That first inclined the Godhead against us,
That prompted him to send the inundation
That lifted Noah, that floated him loose
To drift off on disorganized seas
To hear only birdcries and windsound.
And Nineveh's noise is truly offensive,
The din of its traffic, roar of its machines,
Ambulance sirens, crack of sniper fire,
Impatient horns and screams of mating cats,
And, worst of all, the shouting of voices.
Street vendors, panhandlers, truck drivers,
Children at their play and masons at their work,
All are airing their views at top volume.
Most intolerable of these voices
Are those with a significance to impart.
Nineveh is infested with such vermin:
Prophets and evangelists and poets.
And the first two classes are bad enough,
But the third will push a headache victim
From outpatient clinic down to the morgue.
Would-be poets throng the street corners
And exchange profound-sounding obscurities.
None listen, yet each is louder than the next,
And each is equipped with the same tin ear,
The same insistent, snarling, nasal whine.
These are people with nothing much to say,
And they say it at length, say it ad nauseaum,
And having stated it they then restate it.
Uninformed, uninspired, unemployed,
They find their muse mixed in a cheap liqueur
Which is maudlin and banal in equal parts,
Then vomit her out in uneven lines
Of unmusical, half-digested prose.
Although to address them would be wasted breath,
To remain quiet won't quell the clamour
Already raised by the competing voices
Of these welfare-fed literati.
My only hope to make my message heard
Is to crank my eloquence up to max
And pray that it isn't mistaken for verse.
Liber Jonae Contents