Jonah and the Svanetian Towers

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I felt like I’d seen this all before. Maybe
it resembled Colorado—
the San Juans, Indian Peaks, Sangre de Cristos,
the ranges I carry in my head.
What surprised me most were the towers,
their sheer numbers. Valley after valley.
Each village a cluster
of thousand-year-old-stone towers
among a landscape of mountains.
I never saw Mt. Ushba because of three days
rain. The cloud cover creeping into the valleys,
the clouds wrapping around the towers,
all this obscuration making me think of the soul
as a mountain, a whole range of mountains
hidden in haze, that maybe since my beginning
I’ve been peopled with towers, these fortresses
against cold, snow, and foes. The rain
driving me into a museum with a Jonah icon,
his red-hair trapped within a halo;
the mountainous Svans holding Jonah in high esteem,
a land-fearing prophet swallowed by a whale.
But if these ranges were ocean
and these towers were whales,
more than one Svan could claim
to have been trapped inside for three days.
Maybe I’m the whale, or have
a soul full of whales, and in each one,
I get stuck, like getting stuck in a tower
when outside there’s war, or maybe
mountains and valleys
are where my soul subsists—we are all
towers or maybe trapped in towers,
looking for others in the mist.

 

 

 
Photo by Martijn Munneke

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About Author

Timothy Kercher's manuscript “Nobody’s Odyssey” was recently selected as a finalist for the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry, and his translation of Besik Kharanauli’s long poem, “The Lame Doll,” is set to be published in the Republic of Georgia early next year. His poems and translations have appeared or are forthcoming in a number of recent literary publications, including Crazyhorse, Versal, The Dirty Goat, VQR, Asheville Review, upstreet, Guernica, The Minnesota Review and others. He now lives in Kyiv, Ukraine with his wife and twin daughters.

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