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This piece is about 3 printed pages long.
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An opening’s just a way of doing things,
of forming moves: description more than rule,
an expectation shared of half-guessed links,
the information on a molecule.
It’s useful, too, to know a few defences:
they’re cramped perhaps, but in a kind of Zen
you can safely lag. When my finger tenses,
permit me to take it from the piece again.
It’s fine to name these ways, to think more clearly:
inventors’, places’, pieces’ honorific
create each variant on our chaos theory.
My guess: the general makes me more specific,
and helps me sense and sift the highs and hues
of all the meteorological news.
The many things that move along the coast
surprise but don’t unnerve us: cargo ships
that bring us fortune cookies from the East;
up with the gulls, the buzz of microlite trips.
What scares is what might loom across the vague
horizon, sharpening shadows through the spray
and sunglare: Viking sail, rat-traded plague,
sudden waves that haul the streetlamps away,
the onward seas that sped the metal gods,
their riding beasts, disease, the angry fire
that would allow them to reverse the odds
and top the conquered mountains with a spire.
They crossed the waves, moving with the moon’s might,
and changed the landmarks in the field of sight.
In places where you can still swing your wages
defending your position with a cigarette,
where unit rates would be for flicking pages,
and personal bests for Patience are the targets set,
stress and satisfaction evade the face,
employees know the surface of the sea
is where to rate the economic base:
treading water, all’s cold beneath the knee.
Still they will prove that they can learn fresh trades
and pull new skills out of a cardboard box:
doctor’s receptionists will sell you shades,
train attendants do sales pitches for socks.
The life expectancy of products falls;
we bury the dead out of sight of the malls.
Survival strategies of minor dogs
include, one observes, the preemptive bark:
taller opponents stand there, still as logs,
watching the bared fangs of the footlong shark,
which strains at the leash, lead weight on a chain,
threatening to sprint the five-and-a-half metres.
And from some region of that canine brain
thoughts growl: Back Off. You Will Never Defeat Us.
Although those lesser hounds are known to bite
the legs of higher breeds who think they’re chief,
it still remains an asymmetric fight:
the bigger dogs retain their bigger teeth.
It’s when the hunger gets too much that forces
meet and struggle over the protein sources.
The constellations shift. So is it better
never to leave the excavated zones
and hear new ways to pronounce a letter,
see wood and mud perform the job of stones,
bricks or concrete, as well as straw and ice,
even to paint your walls, then see them flake,
learn the local use of a certain spice,
and there perhaps perfect your own mistake
of living decades in a different way,
remembering other policy decisions?
Which walls throw back more clearly what I say,
as conversation makes its quick elisions?
The magnitudes of sounds intensify.
Vowels vary their colours in the night sky.
Alistair Noon has published chapbooks with Oystercatcher, Penumbra and, most recently, Longbarrow Press (Animals and Places, 2010), as well as translations of Pushkin (Longbarrow) and Monika Rinck (Barque). His translations of Osip Mandelstam are forthcoming from Leafe Press, 2011. He lives in Berlin.