Liber Jonae CAPUT EIGHT Page MEM


Lucky Nineveh, to possess such king!

It's a futile life for an elkhound here,
Here in Iraq, where elks remain rare.
Poor Sylvester thought he treed one once
And went into a long, deep depression
When this beast missed a leap, branch to branch,
And proved to be, dead at his feet, a rat.
The royal shrink spent weeks with that dog,
And wasted countless hours and liver treats
But never got his patient to transfer.
Which is why, perhaps, he keeps eyes closed
And doesn't make sounds or hear my commands
But keeps those canines clamped on your thigh.

I too, oh king, I said, have missed a leap,
The leap that will make this matter relate.

The Inquisition autopsied the rat
To find how, mid-leap, its skill had failed.
A rare gall bladder disorder turned up
That had made left side swell and right shrink
And canted leaps left, slanted paths left,
And left it to hang, scrabbling, in midair.

Rat distemper, she said. Carried by mites.

For any failure of skill, there's a cause.
Bad luck, you think? A wise rat, Jonah,
Knows its state and somehow compensates,
Works with a trainer and learns to lean right,
Or hires a stunt double, or takes the pills,
The red ones, not green, his gods dispense.

Hear, oh King, what wise prophets have learnt.
Design and accident, applied to events,
Will mean nothing outside of memory.
Awake it's memory, asleep just dream.
This rat is just an automaton.
Play it back, make its leaping dance repeat,
Run it back, run it forth, freeze the frame
And watch the rat watch that branch recede.
Strap down the corpse and give it twelve volts:
The rat, oh King, will never get it right.

Sleep on. Watch, wisely, your dreams unfold.
Meanwhile my memory conquers the world.
It finds the flaws that yawed wave equations
And sends robots up to fix leaks in roofs.

At this moment there did enter the room
A large and quite sinister looking toad.
Good morning, Mr. Toad, said Quintus.

Not another toad! said Marguerite.
Just what is it with you and all the toads?

There have been no previous toads, I said.
I really don't know why, Marguerite,
You must keep making that accusation.
You don't know how tiresome it becomes.
I will admit I own an antipathy
Toward toads of all kinds, all sizes,
Of all colours and all ethnicities.
An ancient and bitter enmity exists
Between toads and the parrot overflock.
Some parrot once gave them some offense,
Some trifling or imaginary slight,
Ate several of their offspring perhaps,
Or rolled a boulder over a colony
And squashed a dozen, I forget now which,
And the toads responded with vicious slanders,
Rumours, innuendoes and smear campaigns.
It was despicable, an utter outrage,
And we slaughtered thousands as retribution.
But the toads continue with snide comments,
With nasty asides to this very day.

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