Three Days Deep

Rabbi Deborah Silver
September 14, 2012
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There have been years when the comedy of Jonah’s book, its crashing ironies, its sly witticisms, God’s smily-affectionate reprimand at the end, have made me smile. But not this year. As I read it over, what I notice this time around is Jonah’s pain. A number of commentators, including Rabbi Rachel Adler and Dr Avivah Gottleib Zornberg, have observed that he is depressive. And surely, it hurts to be him.

Perhaps this is why he can’t even pray right. His flowery submission from the belly of the fish feels like a yada, yada, yada of predictable God-ness. God doesn’t even deign to listen to it, the text tells us (or rather, doesn’t); rather, God speaks to the fish direct, and up comes Jonah. Is this by way of rebuke, vomit for vomit, as it were? I wonder.

So I offer this poem as the prayer that Jonah was actually thinking while those elegant cliches about temples and steadfast love spilled from his lips.

Three Days Deep

three days deep
three nights sleepless
time spirals on spurs of bone

this is the pit of affliction
the cavern
where mermaids snicker
where stories end

salt encrusts me
prayer chokes me
my cry is washed into echoes
my voice dissolves into brine

and if, and when, I reach daylight
words will not heal me
salt will undo me
the waves will reclaim me

three nights sleepless
three days deep

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