The Gospel of Tobit

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by George Elliott Clarke

 

The Gospel of Tobit

 

I.

  1. Though all my kin were seduced, persuaded,

to sacrifice—I mean, murder—

their kids, their heirs,

in homage to the golden goat

that King Jeroboam had the gall to erect—

statuesque atop a Galilee hill—

know that I spat, “Never!”

  1. Rebelling, jaunted I to Jerusalem,

ferrying with me apples, figs,

pomegranates, tangerines,

and leading a tithe of milk-dripping cows

and young sheep burgeoning with wool.

  1. To the correct theologians, the misanthropic priests,

brought I tithes of bread, tithes of red wine,

tithes of olive oil,

to urge on their sermons,

spitting fire at our oppressors.

  1. And yielded I tithes of silver coins—

saved jealously for seven years—

to wine-and-dine Jerusalem’s beggars

and prop up cripples supporting canes or crutches.

  1. And another tenth of my wealth

went to widows weeping in their black weeds,

to orphans hungry for smiles and coins,

and to pagans now asserting

that Israel’s God

be the baddest, top dog.

  1. I resolved on Charity because

papa’s in a grave feeding worms:

I’m an orphan—

a student of Suffering.

  1. When I was shackled in Assyria,

chained as a “serf” in Nineveh,

I knew Disgust when I saw Jews

swallow the Gentiles’ gut-gnawing sweets—

plus swine-flesh thrivingly rotten—

I’d have preferred starving

to ever guttling this Aryan offal.

  1. I spurned boozy Chaos, liquefied Evil,

plus delectably dirty dainties,

everything pig-meat-tainted.

  1. Because God backed my refusal of Gentility

my rejection of genteel Obedience,

I stood up—no more bowing:

I became the eminence grise

for Shalmaneser—

and purchaser of all his chattel, wine, tools, and clothes.

  1. Shalmaneser’s beard swam about his chin,

brimmed at his mouth.

He dug into so many laid-out bitches,

their groans could have stiffened—

roused—any eunuch.

  1. But his fat-bottomed, big-titted maid—

her nude matrix like sheer elastic to his eel—

jerked the king to his grave

via the hook of a heart attack.

  1. Now King Sennacharib unleashed Troubles,

stimulated Crime:

Helplessly hurled he down the sans -culottes

before the royal spears;

before hovels dressed up as shacks.

  1. (Poverty? Smell the sour-reeking slum;

ogle the plague of petty thieves

tortured into swearing Poetry.)

  1. Yes, the moolah was shitty,

but I came out looking snow-white

in Honesty

even in unpublished accounts.

  1. The Treasurer is Judge.

  1. Banking is operatic ingestion

and/or Liquidation.

  1. I’d hunt down bargain-priced goods,

scavenging all of Media,

and, once, sojourning, I deposited—

with Gabael, bro to Gabri—

10 sacks spilling silver coin.

  1. But robbers—teamsters

and toll-takers—

beset the highways:

I knew my silver could tempt thieves;

maybe I couldn’t count on those sacks

to not be sacked.

  1. During Shalmaneser’s Administration,

I was merciful to even corpses.

If I viewed any dead Jew—

a corpse frothing maggots—

tossed over the city walls—

or left to seep poison into a well,

I’d go out at dark and dig that cadaver

a proper grave.

  1. I’d also cut down the gallows-hanged,

crowbar the crucified from splintering wood—

all those deemed foes of King Sennacharib

(M. Mephistopheles, really)—

then shovel sand over the grimaces,

the yawning (silently screaming) jaws.

  1. Another ecclesiastical peasant—

stronzo, cafone

would suffer a folk-art crucifixion;

another olive-drab prole—

some home-taught carpenter—

would either dangle from wood gallows

or be spiked to a cross.

  1. I’d sneak through shadows and cart

killed off Israelites to undetectable,

desert burials,

sand sifting over sable or tawny skin,

so that King Sennacharib couldn’t deface

the discarded cadavers,

ordering his soldiers to shit

on the open eyes, or shit

in the open mouths.

  1. But an envious ingrate gossiped

my Charity to the devil-leagued king

who commanded cops come handcuff me,

then stretch my neck from gallows.

  1. I had to scram.

Les flics toted off my goods—

“plunder”—in carts.

I was happy only that my wife, Anna,

mom to our son, Tobias,

still breathed.

  1. But inside 40 days,

that douche-bag Sennacharib

got perforated by ice-picks,

while bedding his son’s wife.

  1. A blade drilled through his temple;

his blood fountained over his son’s

wailing bride;

another blade poked through his anus,

disemboweling him awesomely,

twisting and dicing his entrails.

He was a white-faced fucker with a black-ditch asshole.

  1. As unlicensed and as licentious as dust,

the assassin-prince shipped—

vacated—

to Ararat.

Another prince—

Esar-haddon—now plunked his ass down,

enthroned.

  1. My nephew, Ahikar, now became purser,

the new comptroller of the Bourse,

and convinced Esar-haddon I was loyal,

no malcontent conniving at evils.

  1. Shortly, suddenly a joint Treasurer,

with Ahikar in Nineveh,

was I.

  1. I made a parachute jump

into a volcano:

I went from Disgrace to Power,

while Sennacharib petrified in a peat bog,

and Shalmaneser dazzled gravedirt,

sunflower petals threading his yellow hair.

  1. Sunlight slathered his body in ivory slabs.

[Sechelt (British Columbia) 14 août mmxvi]

 

The Gospel of Tobit

II.

  1. Back home, wife Anna and our sole son, Tobias,

dished up a feast, and I reclined to eat.

  1. I witnessed a brown-bread & red-wine Renaissance,

a recuperation of milk and honey.

  1. I wanted to settle into music—

as if lounging in bed.

  1. But before fork or spoon could meet my mouth,

I tasked Tobias to seek out a destitute Israelite—

one whose camaraderie is uncontradicted—

to plunk at my table and sup.

  1. Tobias ran back to say,

“A Jew has been slain and tossed

amid garbage of the gutter.”

  1. The victim lay there, his neck twisted—

gripped violently by a biting rope.

His face:  Blood-sreaked craquelure.

Huddled in his own shadow was he.

  1. (Note: The market value of butchers’ hands

and laundered clothes

benefits the launderers.)

  1. Ravens exculpate the dead easy:

The sinner, deceased, is the raptors’ fiesta.

  1. I quit the table, the music, the food,

the wine, the belly-trembling ballerinas,

and skedaddled to the market—

breathless due to horror—

and clutched up the corpse—

a teen’s body—

out the redoubled cesspool where his bleeding

met the sewer—

his bleached, grey face lit up by yellow stars—

and snuck it back into the palace,

to secret it among wine bottles

until midnight could shroud a burial.

  1. Nothing is as tranquil as a headless trunk.

A murdered dreamer murmurs as maggots smack,

shredding his linens,

rending his flesh into bite-size morsels.

  1. Prophet Amos was politic to warn,

“Suppers will spoil beside cadavers;

grievous tears will ruin cakes and salt down wine.”

  1. Joy prefaces Annihilation.

  1. Freshly scoured, watered with wine,

I broke ground for the new corpse

while aroused dogs barked incessantly.

  1. A meagre lamp’s light staged my gestures—

the shadows of Love

the furtive allegory.

  1. (Darkness stretches over us

once earth gets pitched onto our faces.)

  1. A spying neighbor witnessed my Charity

and chortled,

“Ain’t Tobias a reckless fool?

Already sentenced to die—

to be a dog’s carcass flung into a gutter—

and having scrammed to dodge the beheading decree—

he’s returned—

to return to illegal burials.”

  1. (His religion is wormwood and/or bilge.)

  1. After sweating and sobbing over the executed youth,

I chose to bed down outdoors,

and kept my face bared,

wanting wind and dew to wave off sweat

and cleanse my tears.

  1. Constellations burned up the darkness—

though I was insensible.

Faces levitated before my sleep-locked eyes—

glimpses of the dead.

  1. Ravens were at large,

flitting to-and-fro over my star-lit litter,

and dousing my drowsing visage

with acidic guano—

damaging jets—that,

liquefied by my nightmare-brewed sobs,

seeped gall into my eyes,

casting a white film—rheum—

that blanked out my vision.

I was blinded—

even as I slept.

The avian defecate ate into my eyes’ sockets.

  1. As dawn light came pale upon my eyelids,

and birdsong was din and babble—

the detonating, denotating lingo—

I could feel bird-dung speckling my teeth.

  1. No doctor, no ointment, could lighten

the ravenous darkness I faced.

  1. Ahikar, pitying me, tended me two years,

then left for Elymais.

  1. Those four years of blindness, I was

as glacial as is grass, growing.

My heart toiled to prod along my oily, sluggish blood.

I was as placid as bottled-up, plague bacilli.

  1. I experienced the claustrophobia

of an insomniac’s coma.

  1. Anna salvaged our household.

She scrounged—foraged—for coins

by sewing or patching neighbours’ clothes

or laundering their filth.

Pale dew wetting her brow.

  1. One patron was so glad for her weaving,

he paid her with a gold coin

and a white goat righteous for throat-cutting.

  1. Plus there was a slush of strawberries

and brandy,

and gin and cucumbers,

and wine-soaked tobacco.

  1. As Anna returned home with the goat,

it began to bay, to bleat.

I figured the commotion was a sign of Theft.

I admonished Anna, “Return this stolen critter!

It would be further disease to eat of its flesh.

Better to dine on soupy lettuce

and wormy mackerel.”

  1. (As soon as Mathematics arrives,

Subtraction begins.)

  1. Anna replied: “We are not betrayed!

I was not beguiled!

Do not be to me Frustration and Faithlessness!

I’m not some ungrateful shrew!

My needles brought us needful gold and goat.

If you believe my rewards are mere Charity,

why don’t you see this creature and this coin

as divine repayment for your own righteous Charity

to bury a costly horde of cadavers?

  1. “Geez, must you trade sunlight for shit?”

[Sechelt (British Columbia) 14 août mmxvi]


The Gospel of Tobit

III.

  1. “Because my forebears were bastards,

kicking at Thy Decalogue,

O Lord, Thou fuckest em damn good!

Their once-mushrooming profits

conveyered into pirates’ pockets,

and my sinning ancestors

disappeared into Europe’s dungeons.

Their gilded percentages of lucre

flaked off, showing virtual turds,

£s worth less than hen-scratch—

penny-ante crap.

  1. “Thou, O God, art never gypped,

never swindled, eh?

If my sins forestall my receipt

of volcanoes of gold and lakes of silver,

it’s correct that I cringe and crimp

like peasants—

chow down on copious gobs

of yellow-green phlegm,

savour salty snot.

  1. “Just rip out my heart

and hurl my soul into Hell’s inferno.”

  1. While Tobit wept such an elegy,

cross-legged in ash, cross in mood amid trash,

Sarah, daughter to Raquel—

at Ecbatana, in Media—

was slagged by her maid

due to her seven white weddings

to seven dudes,

all decked in black-suited Sanctity,

terminating in de facto suicides.

  1. Sarah’s nuptials were instant funerals

for an aristocracy of martyrs—

their penises lopped,

their craniums chopped,

their shanks and shins cropped to bone—

all violations perpetrated by demonic Asmodeus

to forbid any man to man Sarah,

or even to pass the stage of fondling,

when Finesse slins to Tomfoolery,

and the frilly bodice of a filly

splays open,

allowing a man’s jaws to drink

in chocolate nipple, milky tit.

  1. Sarah’s seven suitors were portraits

as ugly, Gothic, as beheaded Philistines,

as unmanned Egyptians.

  1. Asmodeus’s lips smacked as his tongue lapped

at bones,

still strung with tasty gristle.

  1. The seven lads tanked,

finding unlabelled graves.

They were seven expired fiancés,

not actual grooms.

  1. Wasn’t Sarah’s maid’s dastardly taunting correct?

To deplore the shoddy nakedness of laceratd torsos,

the gore-degraded boy bellies and crotches,

and to damn Sarah as resembling

“a bad mother who shits on her litter”?

  1. Yep, the maid’s fulmination entailed

sulphurous-scented, brimstone-accented morphemes,

but the blame was truly on Asmodeus,

not Sarah,

for it wasn’t her fault (or Eve’s)

that the prick lusted to tweezer his defiling member

into her powerfully muscled, squeezing orifice;

to struggle in bed as if in a trap;

to split her smoky diamond;

to fuck Sarah very showily, theatrically;

to stud the spicy, sassy, b-i-t-c-h,

stuffing her muff amid satin

and exploring the Latin

of cunnilingus and fellatio, et cetera.

  1. Asmodeus was a hands-on, red-handed cutthroat—

a diabolical cannibal,

black-leatehered-down, growling.

No knife could’ve cut

the stink of his excrement,

his very thought—

the odor of something drowned

or marinated in cess,

a marine pollution,

a grisly flavour.

  1. He had the will to chafe—

to pry Sarah’s thighs like a horse’s mouth.

She’d realize—finally—

a virgin’s unwilling widening,

fore and aft.

  1. The maid had to chastise Sarah:

“You gripe about my service

because no male has serviced your sex,

disgorging his seed in your gorge;

you pound me with your slipper

because no man pounds your belle-chose

to fill that wound with his offspring.

You lack son and daughter

because you slaughter each groom

before he can slip twixt your gloomy shanks.”

  1. Guilt throbbed in Sarah’s marrow.

She did feel her virginity to be vile,

for it compelled Asmodeus to knife

young men’s cocks,

to nick off necks and scrape his teeth

on thigh bones.

  1. Sarah was as shakeable as is rain in wind.

She shook like a salt-shaker in a gourmet’s hand.

But her shivering was inconsequential.

  1. Sarah felt Hell-bound, hampered.

Never’d her slender gams part for a husband’s lance

or childbirth that slits open a belly.

Never’d she gasp a wife’s gruesome tears,

as the totem of a newborn exacted its Genesis toll—

the fresh skull ripping her like a knife,

as, urgent for air, to breathe,

lunges forth the blood-and-feces-slicked sinner.

  1. Sorrowing, Sarah let loose the brine of her urine.

She struck the floor even before her tears could.

  1. The virgin felt tempted to noose her neck.

She collected ribbons and sashes and knotted

a lasso for her throat.

  1. But God nudged Sarah to Philosophy:

“If I dangle myself from the ceiling candelabra,

so my strangled breath

catches in my throat,

my papa—Tobit—will be mocked:

‘Disobedient Tobit buried the king’s executed crooks.

Now, regard his reward:

His only beloved daughter has hanged herself!’

My daddy’d become an emaciated,

melancholic alcoholic,

spitting blood when not swilling it with red wine—

an ultra-violet, black-timbered pinot noir.

I’d push my papa down to Hell

due to his unstinting sobbing

over my cradle-robbing self-destruction,

and his self-loathing

for his vain Charity.*

I’ll beg Gd instead to let me shrivel

away in hunger, and die—

bereft of food as I am of Love:

Seven times a widow,

but never ever a wife.”

  1. Stretching her hands toward an upper window,

her face a shadow-camouflaged hieroglyphic,

Sarah prayed beseechingly:

“Blessèd God, free me from my prison of Grief

this slaughterhouse of a bridal chamber—

this room made for butchers or morticians—

and the scarlet Disgrace that stains me,

due to the seven macabre manglings

of the suave strangers, the swains,

who’ve sought my hand.

Am I ice,

never to be enflamed by a man like coal?”

She moaned violently at this juncture.

  1. Her room saw chains of flaming words—

like meteors crossing a night sky.

Sarah’s muddy depiction of ruddy Marriage

figured savage, sacreligious Divorce

a strident portrait—

akin to something out of Goya.

  1. O Master, I’m no daughter

taken in Adultery;

though I’ve wed now seven,

no man hath defiled me.

I bathe chastely, untouchably,

in cascading brilliance

(sun-dappled water or moon-lit milk).

My pulse is untainted.

No intimations of Sacrilege

scald my throat or my heart.

I’m no slave to Crime, to Lust, to Hedonism.

Never have I fetched at Lechery.

Spy my unpolluted, but stagnant thighs,

my futile hymen….

I am pollen-deleted.

No trenchant plough has grooved

my shallow canal.

I’m sallow lungs in a fallow bed,

an arid Beauty in a gory madhouse.

All my suitors are perished;

their grandiose faces gone to crematoria

(a blaze of worms);

their split up honeydew torsos,

redskin decapitations,

and ruddy waterspouts of groins—

all surgically divided

to figure a grotesque trinity.

Never had the sweat of their black backs

trickled upon my ivory haunches.

How can I live?

Master, ravish me of my breath!”

  1. Pitying Sarah, God dispatched the Angel Raphael

to exorcise—expunge—Asmodeus

from her bridal chamber—

to clear out that odious and obstinate infestation—

to free Sarah so she could wed Tobias—

Tobit’s boy—

and post a full-length mirror over the bed

so she can treasure seeing two joined figures,

their torsos reflected therein—

the white heat and hiss of sanctified coupling—

and know the furious trembling of orgasm,

the pianissimo, venous hum of spending….

  1. (Tobias must breed Sarah,

for God stokes his desire for her,

so that she may savour

the avalanche of a lover’s breathing

tumbling down as they tremble

amid gusting sheets:

To make her sex a fertile terminus.)

  1. And God also bades Raphael

to clear from Tobit’s eyes the white film

forbidding his enjoyment

of Heaven’s clean, pure light.

  1. So it was that, simultaneously, as Tobit,

afflicted, vacated his courtyard for his mansion,

his shut-in’s wheelchair tick-tocking,

whickering, over marble tiles,

so did Sarah, that frond of lace,

exit her accursed bridal chamber

and descend a white-painted, iron-filligree,

beautiful spial staircase,

her clean loins fleeing circularly

the condemnation of bloody linens—

linens soiled by a demon’s Wrath.

  1. The sun soughs, vapors, into the sea.

Yet, the sun-gripped sunflower tips away from night.

Sight the yellow gloom of the seedy sunflower

an the shriveling daylight,

and then the hydra of a galaxy

until dawn’s freshly visible grass

gleams afresh from drenching dew.

  1. Pray to enjoy also the close-up

of the newborn infant

before thou closeth the once-long-distance

to the open grave.

  1. (Extras, we’re all extras,

in everyone else’s life.)

 

[Sechelt (British Columbia) 14 & 15 août mmxvi]

 

 

 

* Neither the Salvation Army nor Alcoholics Anonymous would soothe his hurt.

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About Author

George Elliott Clarke

The 4th Poet Laureate of Toronto (2012-15) and 7th Parliamentary Poet Laureate (2016-17), George Elliott Clarke is a revered wordsmith. He is a noted artist in song, drama, fiction, screenplay, essays, and poetry. Now teaching African-Canadian literature at the University of Toronto, Clarke has taught at Duke, McGill, the University of British Columbia, and Harvard. He holds eight honorary doctorates, plus appointments to the Order of Nova Scotia and the Order of Canada. His recognitions include the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellows Prize, the Governor-General’s Award for Poetry, the National Magazine Gold Award for Poetry, the Premiul Poesis (Romania), the Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction, the Eric Hoffer Book Award for Poetry (US), and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award. Clarke’s work is the subject of Africadian Atlantic: Essays on George Elliott Clarke (2012), edited by Joseph Pivato.

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