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From a Book of Prophets
Susan Mitchell

1 The return of Jonah by Way of Swanawic as Recorded by a West Saxon Scribe, 871 A.D.

Blown through the knothole, the tophole, the hole in its head
with the fat of whale on my hands and knees
with whale blubber sticking to me

Out of the gut maze, lifted up, drawn forth
I speak now through the jaw of the whale, through bone,
baleen, teeth not my teeth where the whale
breath wheezes, words whistle and sing—

Not my voice, whale voice, not my dream
I speak through narwhal, squalus, cetus, hvalr

I Shut in, my flesh against whale flesh
head crammed into black vessels of whale blood
(yet I know nothing of whale)
under the heart smear, the brain wick, the tallow
mouth thick with dark
skidding and slippery the memory-child

Hvalr what the Norsemen said
Hwael what the kinsmen of Alfred threw all their might
sharpened like ivory, like the point of a star
into—the side, the flukes, the rolling belly
eye deeper than any hole
as they heaved out the bones blazoned
with the dark lineage of whale

And the women, faces anointed with the suint of sheep
chewing on their fatty lamps to hasten birth

Others saw sixty in one day
But how can I number the dark the sheer weight
of the void defying measure
I who swam in whale blood, bedded in the divine clots
where the darkness rises and sets
knowing nothing of whale

Losing the word for water, I swam
Losing the word for breath, I sang
Losing the word for deep, I fell headfirst beating

2 The Furnace. A Bite, 1989

Three Hot Pokers, when the let us out we'd baked
blue and hard, that unforgettable paste
recovered from Persian tombs, but unbreakable.
Little guys, we did our soft shoe for
the politicians. Then God freed us to our
ordinary lives. Men of inflammable
faith, we walked right into another furnace.
Sure, we were hot stuff, our miraculous
survival stoked and heated by the media.
Well, we've told our story so often, tedium
is all we feel. Our advice to you
(if it happens to you)—Better to burn.
Take it from us, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego.
Three little guys who did the soft shoe.

3 Boca Raton, 1990

Say the night was a cliff, a huge expectancy
the car climbed at right angles to a sky
floating its jets and fountains, its flimsy
chiffons of spray. I'm a sucker for beauty.
Besides, the seekers after comfort had gone
to the bar for daiquiris and drinks that foam.
Sometimes I dare myself to swim alone
where wind swells the imagination
black and something big as an ocean
takes a long drag, then heaves itself back.
When it happens, I don't want to come back.
Maybe I don't want to be believed.
Whatever it hisses into my ear, for me
only—unshared, undiluted, unsheathed.

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