Liber Jonae CAPUT NINE Page ZAIN


Give me a break, bird, said Marguerite.

In other news, said the television,
The Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board
Warned against inflationary pressures...

You can turn off the television now.
I have more, always more, story to tell.

Wait a bit. I want to hear the weather,
It comes on next, right after the sports.

Read all about it later, at leisure,
In the pages of the farmer's almanac.
Let me tell you about weather at sea.

But what about dinner? she said crossly.
Haven't we already done the bloody sea?

As all the ship's stays and halyards swayed,
As mainsail mast shifted attitude
To lift and lean as swells rose and inclined,
The thin shadows that tautened rigging cast
Framed the sunlit decks with trapezoids
That kissed, intersected, kissed and parted.
I began to study their many movements,
Their many clockwork collaborations.
A prophet, when rigging is strung aright,
If angles of sunlight and horizon
Are known down to minute, second, degree,
May clearly read the undulant messages
Written onto the rise and fall of waves.
And the best of prophets, of which I'm one,
Need no ship and rely on nothing more
Than tilt of bile-slosh down in gut bilge
And observed windage on the deflected path
Of stringy vomit's plummet overboard.
These considerations warned of weather
Hostile to smooth transit across the deeps,
A conclusion I relayed to the First Mate,
Who stood observing the symptoms of illness
With a connossieur's critical delight.

Well, Owner, said the Mate, you're dead right,
Forty foot seas, gales to forty knots.
But it's a strange storm indeed that's blown in.
Behold, other vessels float nearby,
And though God only knows from whence they came,
Around them seas stay stormless and calm.

I looked out and saw these words were true.
At this point Captain and crew came up
To find what conditions had tipped the ship
And made walking about a tedious task.
It's witchcraft, the Captain proclaimed. We're doomed.

Jettison the cargo to lighten our load,
Strike down sails and lower yard to deck,
Said one sailor. It's standard procedure
When waves threaten to overwhelm a ship.

At this the Mate snorted contempt and said,
Toss all of the cargo overboard,
Then what? Alive, yes, but at what price?
We'd row back to our port alive but poor.
Living destitution. Alive and poor.
That's a deadly combination, my friends.
We'd resemble those beaver castrati
You find in hinterlands, in the backwoods,
Who nibbled off their own sperm-packed balls
Just to gain another insipid year
Of uninspired and unrewarded work.

But it's my cargo, I pointed out,
For I bought it when I bought the boat,
And since my goods are dear, I've reduced risk
And insured the boat and all its contents
Against fortunes of war and acts of God.
With foresight enough to read fine print
I've secured this load and made provision
For uninsured losses by force majeure.
Unlike foolish Pharoah, king of Egypt,
When crops were pelted with hail mixed with frogs
Despite weather reports his priests prepared
That forecasted pristine skies forever,
I'm not one to let chance ruin life.
His ka, I'm informed, took a fatal hit
And made Pharoah since a figure of fun
Among those who teach the merits of hedge.
But even had I left myself exposed,
The loss is mine, of no concern to you.
Your loss at most is but one trip's wage.

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