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painting of Dutch Ships in a Gale

Two Poems

David Holper


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Detail from a van Gogh still life of novels lying on a table.

Editors’ Picks Issue 9

Plough’s editors share their best reads of recent weeks. This issue (Plough Quarterly No. 9, Summer 2016) they feature books by Eugene Vodolazkin, Samar Yazbek, Duncan Hamilton, and Matthew Desmond.

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  • Mike Talbert

    What a delightful targum on Jonah, capturing both the humor and the horror of the story. A lot of ministers would be well served to read it.

  • Shannon Johansen

    Very good poem, I recognise several parts in myself, the Jonah part. We allneed to be reminded of the beauty part, what inspires us to brush off the dust after falling into it.

Jonah’s Lament

If you ask me about the whale, believe me, I’ll run.
Am I a broken record that I should have to go on
re-telling that cursed tale until my tongue trips out?
What a great moral, right? Some rancid tale
of a fool thinking he can flee from God
until a storm nearly swamped the ship—and I got tossed
like a sack of rotten potatoes. Yes,
let’s skip all that. After all,
what business of mine was it if
Yahweh wanted to save the souls
of the Ninevites? Cursed
three days in the sour gut
of the whale, what choice remained?
I dragged my sorry carcass to Nineveh,
Delivered the holy telegram, watched
in horror as the whole lot
of them fell on their eager knees,
begged God’s forgiveness.
It was enough to make you sick.
I fled to high up on the hill overlooking
that cesspool. I threw myself down in the burning
sun, fuming, but God wasn’t done—is He ever?
He grew a fig tree to shade my angry bones, then
withered that, too. How many tortures
can He devise, I wonder, until
I, too, get down in the dust
and grovel, recognizing my hope
is failing, and there’s nowhere
left to run?


Let us now praise all that we forget to see: the invisible
beads of dew on a stem of rye grass, the path the grasshopper weaves

through the fallen sycamore leaves, a tracked laced with the first hard frost;
or the frozen filament of a spider’s web catching the umber sun

light that whispers through the wood this morning.
Yes, this morning let us embrace how the chill seems to listen

to the voices of the quail caressing the charged
emptiness in the air, hear the weight of silence

as the pond ice thickens, as all that sleeps lays it head
against the dark weight of winter – and then the distant call

of Canada geese beating the air overhead. Let us lift our eyes
to follow the blue eye of God – and how in looking down to where

we stand, he offers us everything that is small,
unnoticed, delicate, perfect. Imagine

that he does this because he knows
that the beauty of all he has made is

what we least will notice
but need so desperately. And noticing

our noticing,
is our good pleasure, too.

painting of Dutch Ships on stormy sea Jan Porcellis, Dutch Ships in a Gale (detail)
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Contributed By David Holper

David Holper is Professor of English at College of the Redwoods in Eureka, California. His poem “Cana de Azucar” won the Jodi Stutz prize from Toyon, and his work appears in publications such as Pilgrimage, First Things, Grand Street, and The Gihon River Review.