And Much Cattle

Poem By Linda Hepner

You say the gourd I pity.
“Pity, Lord? For “rage against”
Why do you euphemize?

I know you think me yellow,
Twitching with fright
At murmurs of your voice, but who
In my boat would not sympathize?

Pity it? I pity but myself;
Do not distort the word.
You know this: Ragged, parched,
I’ve sat beneath that gourd
since yesterday
And that was all you gave me
as reward, as sustenance
For all I’ve done for you.
You knew I wasn’t him
They’re waiting for back home,
Nor was I a Moses
To redeem this cankered world;
A Noah, that was all:
Perhaps I’d save my family and friends,
Or Aaron, acting diplomat
till better times arrived.

But pick on me you did;
“Now go to Nineveh…” You said,
As if it were some late night revelry
Giving you headaches!
You who know all, why did you
then see fit
To pick me out
and play with me like gods
For sport?
Yes, I ran West – and yet you knew I would;
Getting no further than the nearest storm,
Retching with fear they cast me from the side,
Their superstitious lottery
Lucky for once.
Death in the deep… my
childhood nightmare true…
Blinded and retching,
choking then engulfed
And waking the in stench
Of rotting, slimy legs and fins.

Dear God, I screamed –
I meant it then. And now:
Shema! Repentance, bravery;
I did return, and many months it took,
Friendless, ragged, footsore,
Pelted at gates, bitten by dogs, -
I trudged here undeterred.

Once here, amazement! How
Amidst such wealth
My eyes which once beheld
Death’s sodden jaws
Saw Death’s golden teeth
Grinning like chasms:
Poor riling poor, boys
with leather boots
Grinding their drinking gourds
To dust. And slaves,
Running for more:
More gourds, fresh gourds
They cry, clean water
and new wells!
Children steal from the orchards:
Gourds by their thousands
Rot upon the refuse dumps.

“This you must stop, ” you said.
Right to the hall I strode.
The king himself, struck in his tracks,
His laugh transformed to gasp.
He saw in me his death,
That of his son, his city and his land.

He changed. Yes. Just like that.
So why not use some beggar from the dung,
Why not some nightmare of his own?
Too easy, yes, you saw
How by the night
His head was grey with ash,
His chastened city
Dark with the hidden.
Not enough, you know it.
Where was the earthquake, where the leaping flame,
Where was the great fish
Rising from the deepest
Oceans of their heart to
Drown them in their tears?
Mere show. And so I
sit here, Lord,
Up on this arid mountain side
And wait for justice.
All I had between me and the elements
Was one small gourd.
A treasure, shade from your glare
and well-earned recompense.

You saw it, burned it,
Left me here alone,
Raging, raging...
Justice, Lord? Oh where?
What pity do I feel? There is none.
Your word makes mock of me
Your messenger, your slave, your sacrifice!

Comments about And Much Cattle

It's a nice evocation. I felt some small tinge of pride at my recognition of the source of your title. The character of Jonah rings true to me. There are a few things I'd have to look up, to grasp a few of your references. (I dont' consider that a flaw of the poem.)

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