Jonah and the Whale.

a poem by Denis Barter, Canada - poetry writer, author, poet

This is how events took place, or so we’re told,
from chronicles written by the scribes of old.
It’s a story, though more likely a far fetched tale,
of fisherman Jonah, who encountered a whale,
then found himself swallowed up, boat and all!
So it comes as no surprise to think this tale is tall.

There were no witnesses to this stupendous event,
and it was never corroborated to its fullest extent.
All answers forthcoming, were based on the word
of Jonah alone, despite them being a touch absurd!
He insisted his conch “shell phone” was on the blink,
so had no contact with other boats. He didn’t think

it would work inside a whale, so never called out.
Apart from him screaming and shouting no doubt,
in terror, on being suddenly plunged in the dark!
Maybe he thought idiot friends were playing a lark
on him, when he was out trying to earn his living?
He might have thought of the flack he’d be giving,

when they lifted the cover, that had him enveloped,
but on lighting his lantern, to see what had developed,
threw him for six! He was stranded inside a whale,
beached on its large slimy tongue? It could not fail
to traumatise him for life! But what to do next?
Would it be smart to get the whale a little vexed,

so he’d open his cavernous maws, and spit Jonah out,
before he was sucked down its gullet. I’ve no doubt
a dozen scenarios raced through Jonah’s terrified mind,
as he desperately sought a practical solution to find
a way out of his mess! But what could be far worse,
was to be swallowed, with his boat acting as hearse!

Now when Jonah went fishing, he went well prepared
for most emergencies. So musing quietly, he declared
to himself, now is the time - for this is an emergency
for which I should have expected, so let me study to see
what I possess that helps me get out of this predicament?
I’ve sandwiches, a flask, napkins, a pinch of condiment,

so I’ll not starve, besides which I can enjoy a drink.
Maybe my last, but at least I’ll not die of thirst. I think
there’s little more to help me escape. Then right on cue
he espied a box into which he had earlier put a barbecue!
One of those charcoal, brazier style cooking widgets
hunters and campers use, instead of digging cooking pits.

What good is a barbecue, he quietly asked of himself?
I’ve nothing to cook, for I’d not caught a fish. My pelf
is nothing but bread, cheese, tomato and a twist of salt:
that I brought no more is too bad. It’s my own fault
I’ve little to eat, but normally if I catch a fat fish or two,
I set my barbecue up on a thwart, and broil a fish stew.

Although thinking for Jonah, was always a strain,
having that thought, switched on a light in his brain!
But before he got too excited, he searched his trews
to see if he’d some safety matches, he could use,
for he’d a rascally idea that might get him ejected,
if it worked! By now he was feeling badly dejected

and grasped at anything that might allow him to leave.
Without he escaped very soon, his wife would grieve:
his children orphaned, and they’d wonder why he left?
So it was important he use cunning to prove how deft
he could be when push came to shove! Ah ha! He cried
it’s a great idea, but I won’t know what, till I’ve tried!

Taking the paper in which his sandwiches were wrapped,
he next broke an oar into pieces, then he tightly strapped
the barbecue to a thwart, as he normally did when fishing,
and placed the paper and wood on the top. Then wishing
for good luck he so badly needed, he struck the first match!
It fizzled, spat and went out before the paper could catch!

Undaunted, he tried again, and the paper burst into flame,
but the damp wood, never caught fire. Oh what a shame
he cried, what else can I use? His angry frustration
was evident as he sought a way to start his conflagration.
Then he remembered the napkins, he’d only a few
but perhaps if he rolled them tightly, they would do?

Next he slipped off his trews, then ripped off a cuff:
likewise the other leg, which hopefully would provide enough
material to start a blaze which would set fire to the wood.
Striking his third match, which left him with two, he stood
over the barbecue and watched as the napkins caught fire,
before he placed them under the cloth. Begining to perspire

he with baited breath - being a fisherman don’t forget,
waited for the wood to catch. Would his efforts get
him the results for which he hoped? Time stood still
or so it seemed, before a small flame sprang up! Will
the wood catch fire, he wondered, it seemed so small,
and what if it didn’t? What next? He’d risked his all

and there was little more he could do, if this failed!
Hallelujah he cried as a stronger flame prevailed,
to send sparks and smoke leaping up into the whale!
Perhaps his hair brained scheme would not fail
after all! All he wanted was half a chance to flee,
so when the whale opened its mouth, when the sea

flooded in, he would row like a madman possessed
to get out of its mouth. Would it be distressed
by the fire and the smoke: was it immune to heat?
Jonah grabbed his remaining oar, and took a seat
and prayed for safe exodus from his predicament.
As a snack for a whale, surely he was not meant!

He waited, prayed, cursed, until without warning
the whale hiccupped twice, then began yawning.
The next hiccup changed to a deep phlegmy cough
as smoke caught its throat. With that Jonah took off
like a space rocket as the next deep cough propelled
him out into the open sea. As the whale expelled

smoke in an eruption, seen and reported by a spectator
some miles away! Jonah rowed like a madman! Later
watchers could scarce believe to what they would attest
as true! Jonah sped off, skipping over waves crest to crest,
as he flew back to harbour with speed never seen before!
Upon his arrival, Jonah leapt out and raced up the shore,

looking neither left nor right, until well out of sight
of the whale, the sea and anything else that might
remind him of the terrible happenings of that day,
which gave him nightmares that never went away!
Convincing his family it happened, was really tough,
but when it came to TV interviews, he’d had enough,

and refused all meetings with the local press.
If only he had thought to capture his distress
on his “shell phone”, then everyone would believe
his story. They’d know he’d no reason to deceive,
nor an axe to grind, and wanted no monetary reward
for selling his story to the tabloids. Matters untoward

that placed him a whale’s belly, were bad enough,
but living down the chagrin, was becoming tough
on his daily routine - the family’s too. What’s more
though fishing was not the enjoyment it was before,
he’d a living to earn, and what other job could he do?
For him to return to his favourite spot, not someplace new

took a lot of nerve, but he saw his first day through,
which was aided by a bottle of wine - a strong brew,
until with darkness falling, he chose to call it quits.
Asked what he’d caught? Said nothing! It’s the pits
for the whale had eaten every decent fish in the bay.
First it circled the bay belching smoke, then swam away.

From then on Jonah ensured he was well prepared
just in case the whale returned. He was rather scared
he might be swallowed again, so kept an ever ready
supply of batteries and matches for that eventuality.
After hearing of his experience, ancients recorded
his ‘tall’ tale in the Bible, with due honour accorded.

Today we take his tale with an outsize pinch of salt,
knowing the hyperbole spread, was never his fault.
That he had encountered a whale is quite possibly
the truth, but it was the Peoples Journal that probably
embellished the story, that made it a nine day sensation,
that resulted in Jonah, receiving a Papal dispensation.

Rhymer. November 9th, 2014.

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