Liber Jonae



All over the lands our Magi have mapped,
From Gibraltar east to South China Seas,
The faithful point faith in one direction,
To that great Temple that Nineveh built.
The call to souls this structure puts out
Extracts first good wishes, then prayers,
Then the better parts of exhaled names.
It makes quick incisions, inserts tweezers,
And tugs them back hither to line its nest.
And then, in time, it goes one step more
And bodily lifts whole organisms up
And yanks them out of normal habitats
To drag them across gaps that separate
And line them up on ramps that lead to priests.
It's pilgrimage time, it's time to show up.
Appear here, the summons says, in person,
Forthwith, without delay, and bring coin,
Bring your value and leave the rest behind.
Strip off your flesh and dive into night.
Discard the parts that faith won't make whole,
Ash that can't climb, the mass that stays put,
The cells of self that would go their own way.
The summons comes from cathode ray tubes,
From billboard signs and magazine ads,
Through network cables, telephone lines,
From that grid that bids the urinal flush
That's maybe a speaker and maybe a drain.
The summons comes in gurgles infants make,
In owl calls, shrew whispers and bat cries,
In the sway of small pines caught by the wind,
In ripples on ponds drowned witches have left.
It comes in long cloudbursts and brief squalls,
Blown around corners, thrown against doors,
Strained by the gusts through a chickenwire fence
As tumbling numbers, as hailstone dice.
This call folds terrain and tips the sky
And funnels visions down mountain gullies
Onto the flats where spent bodies are stretched,
Where tributaries mix till seas arrive.
Buzzards converge, hyenas too, and ants,
Drawn by the fame of Assur's ziggurat,
The magnet, the mecca, the pole of the world,
The promised squirt of universal juice
That lubricates the chew that chomps the meat.
Beetles and small snails crunch underfoot
When larger pilgrims overtake the small,
But no grudges are held, for this is bliss,
To perish enroute to God's anteroom,
To die under the weight of greater souls.
Could we but see them, even microbes,
Those shrivelled, miniscule bits of life,
Might also be observed thronging through air,
Billions streaming along, riding the surf
That leaves them beached on Godhead's brick porch.
The blast of blessing that oven emits
Is too hot and pressing, too insistent,
For even a vestigal spirit to miss.
No one who dwells where Nineveh rules
And sees its pennant flapping overhead,
Would dare ignore duties its God compels
With such endless and all-withering force,
The power that radiates from warmed bricks,
The megawatt megaphone broadcast
That boils space itself, its very contours,
That cooks those interstices that exist,
Twisted and misted over, inside bones.
And this seething furnace is like the sun,
A sun risen to pull steam from fens,
Bake riverside mud to solid rock,
And ignite dry kindling on forest floors.
Nineveh's Temple commands all to turn,
It calls, bids all to submit, send gifts,
And sacrifice, minimum, ten percent.
Your payment is due, do it now or else.

It's a town landmark, said Marguerite.
We still, however, debate the expense,
And some still question its nouveau design.
It's relatively new, five years old,
The mortgage we took has ten more to run.
I don't remember now how we worshipped
Before it opened oaken doors to crowds,
But there's no doubt it cost us much less
Before the toll and tithe and cover charge.

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