Hell's Belly

Detail from "The Sea Stopped Raging," by Barry Moser, from Pennyroyal-Caxton Bible, 1999, used with permission.

From the midst of the nether
world I cried for help.
 —from the Book of Jonah

A gray whale blows off Cardiff Beach,
just beyond the glamour homes,
boutiques, and drive-thru windows,
valet service and all-u-can-eat sushi.
I want to swim out and be swallowed.

Jonah’s whale wasn’t Ahab’s, all
tripey white and peg-toothed, but
a strainer of phosphorescent shrimp,
which lamped the reeking gut, like
fireflies we swallowed once, in jars.

Even so, I say Moby gobbled Ahab,
steeped him in a pungent broth and
after 3 days spewed him bawling wet
onto the very beach where his
wife and boy kept a driftwood fire.

I hide in my own belly, treading a
sickly cocktail, on which float half-
eaten books, grocery lists, plastic bags,
dashboard figurines, and bugs like
butts in dregs of budget vodka.

No fireflies constellate these palms.
I fantasize a swarm, swallow it all,
that a spark might fall into my water.
I’d throw myself to the whale, to be
not digested, but gestated, then dis-

gorged, bleached and sucking light,
right here. I’ll scavenge bottles to hold
luminous soup I wring from my soul
and throw them to the waves for all
the other, countless, castaways.

Gene Fox studied philosophy and literature at James Madison University and served for 10 years as a librarian for the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass. He now lives on the south coast of California.

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