Notes on the Book of Jonah
Mia Ayumi Malhotra

from “Daughters of Sarkhan”


To begin, there is no book.

There is no sea, either. To this landlocked people, the sea is a wildness. A void. The word for water means life, mother, opening. But not sea.

There is no god, as theirs is not a created order.

Thus, the translation is incomplete.

All the meaning, leeched from the surface of the sea. The sacrifice.

Water is blood is life.

A body slamming against the rocks. Her small, dark head.




There is a mirror in this text.

An elegant structure like the ribcage of a whale. If you squint, you can almost see the sun-bleached bones.

One may read the story forward, only to be thrown back. It is possible to lose a body in this current.

I am told she was the not the first.

Legend tells of the naga, a mythical serpent that curves through the river, scales shaped to the current.

I have seen this beast before.

Temple architecture features the naga on every rooftop, stairwell, and doorframe. One could fit a child’s hand between the curved teeth.

My child disappeared into the darkest mouth.

If you stare at the river long enough, it takes on serpentine qualities. At times, I am tempted to believe.

In one version, the cry finds an answer. In the other, it is the sea who responds.

How to know if the face in the river is one’s own?

Like Jonah, I have run to the temple but found many faces. Each doorway plated with a thousand mirrors.

How, then, is one to see the glory of the Lord?




Something flashes in the depths of this text. Something dark and multiplicitous. I have seen these bodies before. They swarm beneath the surface: inky, disappearing.

To bait a fish, you must first have a hook.

A word. A single line.

When the word came a second time, the man found himself in the company of many.

You could not see, for all the turning. The flash of a thousand bodies of a single mind, skin crackling with the same charge.

Drawn from the sea, eyes eaten by salt. What must he have looked like?

I have scoured the surface for some hint. Some reason why.

One night, staring into the river’s folds, I believe I saw it. Ridged scales churning crosswise against the current.

They say that to see the beast is to be blessed.

Mine eyes have seen the glory, yet I have lost my way.

It is still possible, with a word, to turn the heart of a city?




How much longer they ask.

These people without a book.


I have not told them the truth. That I cannot swim.

That I am disordered by the sight of the sea.


My mind fails me. My Lord, my language.

All I once held dear.


I am dizzied by unfathomable depths.

The truth, at last. I cannot save myself.




I am that man, wrecked.




I have abandoned the text. My notes lie in ruins.

This collapsed city, my Nineveh.



Is it possible to run from someone who does not exist?