Writing Exercise: [Noun] in Ten

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Clarity in Ten Words: Alien Invasion


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Fire to the Rain

In the jungle a millipede caterpillars
onto a giant leaf on soggy ground.

Far above, the rain drums the canopy,
which collects the water only to redistribute it:

Rivulets run down trees, along vines, join on the ground,
picking up orange volume by the second.

And so the leaf sets sail.
The millipede forfeits the captaincy

and rolls over the edge into the water,
only to hold on seconds later to a stem

that grows here in the semi-dark.
A bad choice: While the leaf

would have borne its captain to safer shores,
a red jungle fowl now picks up a snack

in one fell hack and scurries back to the village.
A village built into a clearing, hacked into the forest.

And so no canopy protects the huts.
Sheets of water slash down

onto everything and all who sit quite patiently.
This is not the first downpour, but the last one

for the old man who tilts his head towards a stranger sound;
louder than the thunderous beating of the rain on roof and hat.

For suddenly a shiny something overhead
sets fire to the rain
and to the chicken
and the leaf
and the hut
and the man.

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At the School Big Band Concert

The Big Band isn’t very big
anymore: Four trumpets,
four saxophones – and what’s
the plural of euphonium?
Well, there are two of those.

A tuba, a trombone,
one guitar, the string bass,
and leader Henry on the Grand Piano,
almost bald now; thin shoulders hunched
over strong hands and still-confident fingers.

The drummer lets his hired hands fly:
A professional, and very kind.
He does the job he’s been called in to do
and a little more: After solo parts
he nods encouragement to amateurs.

The swing swings smoothly enough
and the crowd, huddled in the
ten front rows, is kindly responsive:
A small sea washing applause
over a smaller beach.

Of the sixteen performing members
four are students, all of them final-years.
Of the teachers, a couple have been absent, unwell.
Nobody ever smiles and everybody
is dressed in black.

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What I Took from the First Aid Refresh Course

The idea is to brush up on essentials.
We learn how little we know.

We worry how wobbly we’d be.
We laugh a lot for obvious reasons:

We are not making merry, merely trying to cope.
We stall in the second, practical, part

where ribs crack, consumption re-emerges undigested,
and unspeakable things happen to children.

Walking out into the early dark
towards cars, trains, bikes (all ominous now)

we all of us envisage our own personal worst horrors:
Kids, or that neighbour you really can’t stand.

Back home, trying to unwind
I listen to the words again:

Recovery position. Heimlich manoeuvre.
Hemiplegia. I like that I know the words.

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Moments – Across the Yard

The Subaru next door sports two Obama-Biden stickers, one for ’08, one for the second term. Across the gravel yard of the lodge, there’s a Chevrolet with another message: “Somebody please put the constitution on his teleprompter.” Beyond the yard, Utah table mountains stand red in a clear blue sky, much like they have done for millenia. Below, the Colorado river flows on.

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Moments – Interstate 17

On the left hand side we see a big billboard that says “Jesus is Lord”. Then there is a small rocky outcrop before the dwelling around it reaches all the way to the highway again. There is another billboard, equally big. Here, a local shop wishes to attract passing tourists. The massive legend reads “Exit now!”


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