Prepare

First published in Modern Haiku 47:3, Autumn 2016, page 80. Originally written in April of 2009.

It begins with a jolt, enough to send us to the doorjambs. Books and ceiling tiles crash to the floor, and explosive noises ricochet far and near. I am in a nondescript city, but it seems to be home. When the first wave of noise and rumbling subsides, we realize that we’re safe and rush outside. In the dark, billows of smoke curl from a nearby apartment building, and I scramble up the hill in its direction. Others rushing the same way wear barrettes across their foreheads with Arabic numbers in LED lights. I hold a strange package with my own barrette, with no instructions except the word “PREPARE.” I am about to toss it, but something intrigues me—its exposed circuitry, the utility of its disposable design. My barrette’s number is 259. In my hand its digits start to glow.

                a tiger swallowtail
                flutters through my dream,
                landing on my finger

At the half-destroyed building billowing smoke, dust from a crater of rubble begins to settle. Inside, a fire rages. A small, paralyzed crowd gathers. A few people point to the sky, where two sets of lights appear, far above us, to the east. One is an oval with pointed ends, outlined in white lights. It moves like a dirigible. Every few moments, a mustard light sparks from one end of the oval, aimed downward like a laser. The other is a square of faintly red lights, unmoving. In the middle of the square is a number 2. My wife’s number, in the barrette she received, is number 6. Another explosion rattles us from the next street over, and new billows of smoke catch the moonlight.

                sudden chill—
                the pinch I give myself
                leaves a welt