Unnatural Selections by J. Weintraub

For forty days the dark, torrential rains

came pouring down; we’d brought substantial grain

aboard, were prepared for the worst,

but after several months, the hold reeked like a sty,

and still the raging waters continued to rise.

The ravenous griffins were first.

No contest there. Yet they were sincerely surprised

to find their guardians, too, were carnivores.

They made a commendable roast.

The dragons followed next. The day before

they’d feasted on our Keryneian hinds,

incinerating them in their flaming breaths,

leaving behind only golden antlers and the brazen feet.

(Moreover, fires on arks can pose serious threats.)

The Criosphinx (the ram-headed kind,

not the inquisitive gal) we barbecued—a savory treat—

then grilled our basilisks and our Calydonian boars,

and made a stew of Mr. and Mrs. Manticore;

and although the waters now have started to subside,

the unicorns, tomorrow, will serve as plat du jour—

a sweet-tempered beast, not likely to survive

in this new world, where violence and blind catastrophe

will decide who disappears and who shall thrive,

where our Lord’s presence is no more than the memory

of a threatening voice echoing out of the past, a sigh

in the wind, a pale spectrum fading in the eastern sky.


J. Weintraub has published fiction, essays, translations, and poetry in all sorts of literary reviews and periodicals, from The Massachusetts Review to New Criterion, from Prairie Schooner to the Modern Philology. He has been an Around-the-Coyote poet and a StoneSong poet, and, as a member of the Dramatists Guild, he has had one-act plays and staged readings produced throughout the United States and in Australia, New Zealand, India, and Germany. His two-act adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s canonical Villeggiatura trilogy, The Summer Season, was recently published in The Mercurian: A Theatrical Translation Review and can be read online. More here.

Author's note

Since I tend to view each of my poems as an independent, coherent work, in a similar way that a potter might see one of his or her pots as a stand-alone object (although certainly with considerably more utility in mind than my poetry), I strive to give all of my poems a singular voice, and it therefore should be no surprise that the dramatic monologue is one of my favorite forms. The mythological past, of course, provides abundant material for such poetry and I have frequently mined this resource for my own narratives, writing fictions, if not directly in the voice but occasionally through the perspectives of such luminaries as Orpheus, Circe, the Sphinx, and even Flash Gordon.

For this issue of Carmina, I’m pleased to present another pair of ancient voices, one from the Classical past and one from the Old Testament. The Shepherd of King Laius is a supernumerary character from the Oedipus legend (and, in particular, the Sophocles play) but he nevertheless contributes mightily to the irony that suffuses the drama with an act of—at the same time—charity and betrayal, a sort of inadvertent original sin that leads to the ultimate tragedy. My Noah, on the other hand, has a more comic role to play, but his choices, too, lead perhaps to an even graver catastrophe, through an act of “unfaith” (in my Noah's case a speculative one) that perhaps could have contributed to the Old Testament God abandoning forever his intervention in the affairs of his creation.

And so, the myths of the past—exploited and, on occasion, manipulated— offer a wealth of possibilities for our imaginings, and I am very pleased to join Carmina in its continuing cultivation of such efforts.

"Unnatural Selections” was originally published in The Comstock Review, Spring/Summer 2005.