Plink! plink! Polluted water drips from a rusty pipe,
onto something in a dark corner.
Peter wakes to this sound.
He remembers entering the city
seeing a construction, a building
Picasso-cream, & tall,
with a rounded top
like an onion.
It is plainly not a mosque.
He has seen human sacred sites before.
Part of this building’s side has been torn away.
It is like a big burrow open to the moonlight.
He remembers going inside . . .

It is where he is now. There is nothing to eat.
No sacks of potatoes or vegetables.
The earth smells mouldy; there is a glint of light
near where the water pools & spills,
but nothing grows.
To his right,
above a date palm with half its top blown off
he sees two tiny points of light.
Against the wall that’s closest to the moon
there’s the outline of a man.
A voice questions softly:
Joshua, why don’t you try & find them?
Why are you still here?
The voice seems to be talking to itself.
Peter Henry Lepus can see no other human there.
He listens. It seems the man has built
the house for his fifteen wives, that he is one
of the over-five-million
believers in
the Church of Jesus Christ
of the Latter-day Saints,
who are scattered throughout the world.
His wives scattered out through Baghdad,
leaving him behind
when the bombs began to fall.
They are all called “Smith”, like him
& they came, with him, to this place.
Each one
had a separate
apartment, within the rounded building, so he did not know,
till he went to find
one, & then another . . . & another . . .
that, finally, he was all alone.

His voice goes back, he is reminiscing
as Peter has heard
Ayer do.

He had left Ayer in the desert, with a group
of hiking phenomenalist philosophers,
each trying to receive a “sense datum”
of a big pool of water that, Ayer said,
wasn’t really there. This had puzzled Peter.

He had thought,
when you hopped towards water,
you could drink it.
After rain, it was what he’d seen
the outback wallabies do.

Ayer’d said:
gaining a sense impression of seeing water
was an “optical illusion”
that people in deserts sometimes had.
It happened on hot days
when the sun was shimmering on the sand.
He has described groups of people, in desert,
who think they are seeing water,
& there is no water there;
they are correct
in perceiving something,
but deluded
in what they think it is . . .
Peter’d hoped they were carrying
big pouches of water with them.
He has not seen Ayer since . . .

The soft voice in the dark space
is still talking to itself: Joshua, are you
being punished
for having fifteen wives?
Or, for building this big house
with the top windows shaped like onions?

He’d not wanted a house for them
that looked like the others around it –
houses, mostly, of Arabs,
who went to mosques to pray.

Had he built a needle-spire on top
it might have looked
like a Mormon Church.
They’d not wanted
to draw . . .
such false attention . . . to themselves . . .
in Baghdad, while they stayed . . .

yet needed a cool house, for a hot place.

The pale, whitish-green-tinted window-glass
was anti-glare, locally made . . .

He’d planned
the high dome roof,
to span an unused sunless room,
& give them cool
beneath it – the windows,
to catch the breeze.

The onion . . . a simple food object . . .
How could it
’ve cost so much –
few labour-intensive lead strips (unlike stained glass)
the design
mostly done in weather-proof paint?

Coming in, Peter’d noted
the small “onions” inside the bigger one,
& puzzled about them.
In the past, he’s not
been overly fond
of onions. He is trying
to overcome
his dislike . . .
From the outside,
he’d seen fine lines in a deeper green
curving up each small “onion”, to the top
where there was a slim
darker green stalk.
It’s the memory of the smell that makes him tremble.
These “onions” have no smell.

He’s been reading his book
on the “Philosophy of the East”,
& wonders if Joshua knows
in some accounts of Daoism (& Buddhism)
the onion’s used as a m e t a p h o r
for the i n s u b s t a n t i a 1 i t y
of human bodies . . .
Joshua has begun rummaging,
making paper rustling sounds, looking for his passport
& those of his fifteen wives. They did not
take their passports with them, he discovers,
pulling one passport after another
out of a slim black case.

He has travelled with his wives “disguised”
as “sisters”, out of Utah.
At first, the sixteen Smiths ’d been looking for the place
where “the Bible’s Abraham” had lived.
Peter remembers the “cradle of civilisation”,
ancient Mesopotamia,
’s been linked to the “Garden of Eden” myth,
& that the name, “Abraham”,
was connected to this site. Peter, who has been studying widely,
is in Baghdad to collect data
for a rabbit History of Philosophers, though he has not,
yet, received authorization from Cambridge University,
for his proposed “research”,
nor reached Baghdad University, to do it . . .
due to “war” . . .
Was Abraham a philosopher? he asks Joshua, eagerly. Joshua
does not seem to hear.
He had two wives, he murmurs,
so, there is a precedent
for plural marriage . . .

It seems the sixteen Smiths
’ve also been searching for
“The Divine Authorization”
inscribed on two golden plates.

There were other authorizations, Joshua mutters
given to Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, & Solomon.
Perhaps he is secretly hoping
to find some reference
to the Joshua Smiths? . . .

Peter thinks Joshua’s U.S. leave-taking
was, perhaps . . . a trifle late.
He’s read, on the official website
of the Church of Jesus Christ
of the Latter-day Saints,
that it is o n e h u n d r e d
& t h i r t e e n y e a r s
since President Wilford Woodruff
advised that the practice of plural marriage
should cease . . .
furthermore, that, in nineteen ninety-eight,
Joshua would likely have been
excommunicated from the Mormon Church,
& in violation of the “civil law”
of the United States, a virtual outlaw, had he stayed.

Peter has looked up “mirage”
since he left Ayer. He wonders if the plates
might be some kind of “mind’s illusion”,
shimmering gold in humans’ heads,
comparable, perhaps to . . .
creating “illusory water” for them,
as the sun seems to,
shining shiftily
in desert,
on sand?

Outside, in the moonlight, he can see the bats,
swooping out of what’s left of the date palm’s crown.
from where he squats,
on the uneven floor,
he cannot see
the small high “onion” windows, he suspects
the bats are flitting in & out up there.
They do not look at all
like the Sydney fruit bats he has watched.
He has read, in Bats of the World,
. . . some bats eat fish, birds, other bats . . .
or frogs. Perhaps these Baghdad bats
are catching moths? They do not tell. They make no sound.
All Peter can hear is the quiet voice of Joshua Smith
telling himself, in bits,
the “story” of how he came to be
where he is now.

Joshua has always believed the plates are real,
that they contain
the prophecy of a “primitive American”,
named “Mormon”, who buried them
at Palmyra, in New York state, in A.D.
eight hundred & twenty-seven –
a thousand years before
Joseph Smith
dug them out;
Joseph Smith
was led to them
“by revelation”. It’s rumoured
the plates, which’ve been . . . in hiding . . .
for one hundred & seventy-odd years
have, comparatively recently,
been re-discovered
under the bomb-crumbles
of Baghdad.

Joseph Smith, it seems,
was the only human
who had
“insider” knowledge
of the one-thousand-year-dead
language, &, so,
was uniquely able
to “translate”,
“Mormon’s words”,
from the plates into plain,
nineteenth century
“American English”.

Is a language
known only to one person
a language at all?;
Peter remembers
Wittgenstein, pacing restlessly
in his study at Cambridge, asking
for clarifying objections,
counter-arguments, from his students.
He feels sure
Wittgenstein would say
that it was not.

Joshua has one date,
left, to eat.
He eats it.
He believes in “the simple life”.
Abruptly he heads off, barefoot, into the
now day-lit Baghdad streets, to look for any
of his fifteen wives.

Peter wanders off, stopping, to sniff
at empty doorways – the “burrow” leads back
to Joshua’s many-roomed, main house. All
the kitchen cupboards are open,
with nothing inside. He hopes
Joshua will return,
perhaps with some spare
ears of wild green barley – or carrots . . .
He is dreaming
of eating autumn grass
with the Flowerbed Rabbit
when he falls asleep.

About J.S. Harry

J. S. Harry (or Jan Harry; born 1939) is a contemporary Australian poet who has been described as “one of Australian poetry’s keenest satirists, political and social commentators, and perhaps its most ethical agent and antagonist.” J. S. Harry was born in South Australia, but soon moved to Sydney where she has remained. She has worked as an editor for Radio National and has held a residency at Australian National University. A recurrent character in her work is Peter Henry Lepus, a rabbit who name-drops philosophers such as Bertrand Russel, Ludwig Wittgenstein and A. J. Ayer while popping up in... Read more...

Poet of the day

Edward George Dyson was an Australian poet, journalist and short story writer.

He was born at Morrisons near Ballarat in March 1865. His father, George Dyson, arrived in Australia in 1852 and after working on various diggings became a mining engineer, his mother came from a life of refinement in...

Poem of the day

J'aime ton nom d'Apollonie,
Echo grec du sacré vallon,
Qui, dans sa robuste harmonie,
Te baptise soeur d'Apollon.

Sur la lyre au plectre d'ivoire,
Ce nom splendide et souverain,
Beau comme l'amour et la gloire,
Prend des résonances d'airain.

Classique, il fait plonger les...