The Sign of Jonah
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THE SIGN OF JONAH
You have your salvation to attend to Mr. Cerebrax,
And I have mine.
Salvation? Science is my salvation,
I’ll have none of your God or your garden myth,
None of your Flood,
None of your Golgotha story,
None of your blood.
Just sane, wholesome truth, that’s for me.
You speak of Golgotha.
Pilate questioned, ‘what is truth?’
And Pilate had no answer.
Save me from your metaphysical mire!
I shall retire from this debate
Unless you give your word that you’ll relate
The words you use to rigorous semantics,
By which I mean: no senseless verbal antics.
We are men of unleashed mind,
Purged of intellectual constipation thanks to Bacon and his kind.
If you must talk of your God then make your point.
Don’t beat about the bush, just simply show him,
Don’t sell him.
Tell me where he is and what he wants,
Or let him show himself,
This God still lives, or so you say,
Then let me see some sign of him,
Or please both go away.
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him,
“Teacher, we would like to have some sign from you”.
He replied to them,
“It is an evil and disloyal generation that craves a
Sign, but no sign will be given to it except the Sign
Of the prophet Jonah; for as Jonah was three days and
Three nights in the belly of the whale, so the Son of
Man will be three days and three nights in the heart
of the earth.
Lent came, and strange events occurred.
Signs there were;
But Mr. Cerebrax has never swerved
From what he terms the true enlightened way
Which in a nut-shell is to take things as observed,
And then support them with the props of proof.
There were briefly seen in the skies,
The words: ‘GOD DIES’.
From the Plough to the Pleiades, chameleon changing,
Ribboned letters, poster-painted, large in the aurora
Seared the searching retinas of physicists in Churchill
Who logged the strange phenomenon in ink and fast emulsion.
The news spread like a global epidemic,
Electron-swift, electron aided, Babel-binary,
satellite-guided, teleprinter-thundering floods of words.
Later the Canadians were called to give account.
Televised like astronauts, their puff-ball thoughts were
Caught and thrown about;
Later still were rationalised,
And sober scientific minds devised
An explanation irreproachable.
And soon the matter died, or might have done…
…Had not the Jodrell dish,
Trawling heaven’s ocean for its fish,
Had a bite in the galactic mid-Atlantic.
Porpoise-peeping sounds for some seconds were recorded,
And then ceased.
Long oppressed by cold celestial reticence,
Furore seized this lonely solar clod.
We’re not alone, we’re on the stellar phone!
The Earth rejoiced at finding Friday’s foot print
Firmly planted in sidereal sand.
Panting cipher hounds soon sniffed the spoor and were away,
The rest on horseback straining to their bay.
They rode it rough, they rode it hard,
They closed in for the kill.
The message read:
‘YOU KILL YOUR GOD, YOUR GOD LIES DYING STILL’
The hound-dogs snuffled round a bit,
Soon tired and turned away.
The horsemen shuffled round and coughed,
Decided not to stay.
The cry of ‘Hoax!’ was raised,
Their blood was up again.
The hunt was on, but now they rode to catch another prey.
It slowly petered out.
The second scent was cold right at the start.
Truculent they bellowed, ‘Gone to earth!’ and drew their rein.
The riders quit the field and trudged off home.
They laid the story quietly to rest and walked away,
And no one seemed to mourn it at the tomb.
Then came the day,
We can’t say how, we don’t know now,
On that Good Friday afternoon
At three o’clock the news flash struck.
Rugger, racing, soccer, pop,
The raging, roaring lot was snuffed-out sharp.
The second’s silence blasted ravaged ears.
And then a voice, dispassionate, in undertaker’s tones said:
‘We interrupt this service to inform you GOD IS DEAD’
Swift and sure interrogation followed the affair.
The announcer was absolved
Since he insisted that the sheet was handed to him
Just as any routine news,
And that the words had jumped his tongue
Before their meaning had begun to trickle through.
The Director-General glowered,
And had the news-room scoured;
There were questions asked,
The buck was passed,
A scapegoat found and fired by three next day.
The sport on that Good Friday afternoon, ten seconds robbed, played on.
Here and there a ripple of regret was soon washed over by the flood;
As when a clown would have you weep, and weeping,
Frowns because he wants to dance again.
But where the living water flowed,
The stab struck sharp.
The ancient pangs of parricide
Lie deeper than the deepest ocean tide.
For the rest, a vast indifference;
An irritation only that their pleasure had been pin-pricked by a crank.
There were post-mortems;
And the press observed a congruence with the Churchill and the Jodrell Bank affairs.
‘Bad taste’ and ‘Impropriety’ were tossed into the air like Indian clubs.
Both secular and holy
Pronounced events as phoney,
And declared it best to let the matter drop.
We had been taunted by the tantrums of a most ingenious theomaniac.
‘No, father Abraham’, he said, ‘but if someone only goes to
them from the dead, they will repent.’
He said to him, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced, not even if one rose from the dead.”
Early Easter Sunday
Children in the Caucasus and Cornwall,
In Palestine, the Pampas and Peru,
In India and Zambia and Hong Kong and New York
Brought home babbled talk about a man in White.
“He was a happy man.
We found him by the rocks where we play hide-and-seek all day.
He joined the game and romped with us
Then laughing, went away.
“He was a gentle man who met us in the woods above the sea
Where the crocus grows in clusters with the wild daffodil.
We picked a bunch and gave it him,
He smiled and kissed us all.
“He was a solemn man, but kind.
We met him on the hill from where you look down on the town.
He took our hands and helped us on the slippery, sliding slope,
And all the while he gazed below
But words he never spoke.
“He was a warrior on a horse of dazzling white.
He galloped out of nowhere as we trotted on our mules;
He sang a sort of war song, though he had no words or gun,
It made us want to follow him and join in all the fun.
“He stood upon a mountain top
Outshining sun and snow
Like the cross upon the great Cathedral Church.
And as we watched he seemed to melt away like early mist,
But we stood there, for our eyes were blinded so.
“He was a good man, bearing bowls of rice and fish.
He said he came in answer to our wish.
We thanked him in a hurry
Then we gobbled up the food.
He had gone when we had eaten,
Will he think us very rude?”
Four little dark kids down from Harlem
Simon and Andrew, James and John,
Were paddling their boats in Central Park
When the stranger waved, and cried “Come on”.
At the Rockefeller Centre some Puerto Rican children
Met his eyes, caught his smile
And tagged on too.
As they entered 42nd Street
A score or more of dancing feet
Leapt round him as did David’s at the Ark.
And at Grand Central Terminus
The fuss they raised was GLORIOUS
That Easter Sunday morning in New York.
The motley band grown larger
Surged on towards East River;
They were drunk with joy, and higher than the Chrysler.
As they passed the UNO building
They were singing, loudly SINGING
And the echoes from the slab went ringing out across the world.
Later, parents listened in that dim, distracted way
That they cultivate when hearing rigmaroles.
They daily have to humour all the cackle and the prattle with good grace.
It takes a child’s eye to discern God face to face.
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