Concise Prose. Enough Said.
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Creative Nonfiction
By John W. Sexton

Summer Swarm

Summer Swarm

I leave the beach and take the worn path to the car. Bent grasses brush my bare ankles, sand grinds gently under my feet. At the car winged ants have gathered, their tunnels exposed in the loose earth. The car is speckled with languid males; more cover my shirt, trousers, alight on my face. I begin to brush at them gently, then notice something like a jewel on my sleeve—a ladybug. From childhood habit I start to count its spots, for if you find a ladybug with an uneven number something auspicious will happen (though I can’t remember what).

I lose count and have to begin again. The air thickens with ants; momentarily I am distracted and the ladybug takes off before my counting is finished.

A memory comes up and I let it take me. Late summer: shoulder-high in thistles, I run through the neglected meadow. My hair and clothes are covered in thistledown. Ladybugs are everywhere, hovering over the thistle-heads. I can see them swarming from the pines on the near hill. In the distance smoke is rising from the fields, the stubble set on fire.

a boy
with thistledown hair
the thistles shaking

In the car window I catch sight of my reflection and the memory vanishes. The ground is littered with ants. I stand perfectly still, nowhere to take a step.


day ends
moths sear themselves
on the lightbulb

In the bath I find one upside down in a small puddle, the glitter of its wings leaching into the water. The moth struggles but cannot free itself, becomes increasingly sodden. Tearing a piece of toilet paper I lean down into the bath and sop up the puddle. The moth is drawn into the tissue and I lift him up and bring him to the living room. On the table I gently remove him from the strip of toilet paper. Most of the water has been soaked up from his wings, but they lie limp over his body. I lay my finger before him and he crawls up onto it. I place him onto the cover of the book I am reading, the Tao Te Ching, and smile. The moth walks in a spiral over the cover then makes his way to the edge of the pages.

I pick up the book and open it, gently, gently, at the part where the moth is standing. The moth, undisturbed, simply walks into the book. He passes over a verse and I begin to read. “The heavy is the root of the light; the still is the lord of the restless.”

Again I tease the moth onto my finger and put down the book. The moth opens its wings and takes flight. Eventually he comes to rest on the wall above the living room door. I switch off the light and retire to bed.

The following morning the moth is still there above the door. Standing on a chair so that I can reach him I take him onto my finger. He remains on my hand, taking a circular, tickling walk, as I go down to the rear field. I blow into my hand and he rises up into the air. I watch him, his dark body soaking with sunlight.

my kite with no string
moth above the thistles


John W. Sexton (Republic of Ireland) is a poet, short-story writer, dramatist, children’s novelist, radio scriptwriter, and broadcaster. He is the author of three collections of poetry, The Prince’s Brief Career (Cairn Mountain Press, 1995); Shadows Bloom / Scáthanna Faoi Bhláth, a book of haiku with translations into Irish by Gabriel Rosenstock; and, most recently, Vortex (Doghouse, 2005). He also created and wrote The Ivory Tower for RTE radio, which ran to over one hundred half-hour episodes. His novels based on this series, The Johnny Coffin Diaries and Johnny Coffin School-Dazed are both published by The O’Brien Press, and have been translated into Italian and Serbian. Under the ironic pseudonym of Sex W. Johnston he has recorded an album with legendary Stranglers frontman, Hugh Cornwell, entitled Sons Of Shiva, which has been released on Track Records.

An interview with John is available at VerbSap. His prior work published in the magazine was The Book End.  


Photo "Fallen Asleep" courtesy of Bill Davenport, Kentville, Nova Scotia, Canada.

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