Clusters

The occurrence of three or more sounds
with no intervening vowels within a word

is what linguists call consonant clusters:
as in diphthong, glimpse, and angst. One

of my favorites, perhaps, is ironclad
that steam-propelled warship encased

in plates of metal, which in the 1800s
toted some of the heaviest artillery

ever brought out to sea, often equipped
with an elongated underwater beak for the then-

hot craze of ramming into enemy ships in ocean
warfare. In this navy town where we now live,

there are no hulls of old ironclads; but in the downtown
harbor, the Battleship Wisconsin is permanently berthed.

Just blocks away from the MacArthur museum, it houses
paraphernalia from WWII, including pictures of operations

east of Luzon in the Philippine Sea and along
the coast of Mindoro. I read that this battleship

weathered many violent storms and skirmishes,
but proved to be most seaworthy— There it stands

grey and gleaming in shallower waters, next
to pools of cultivated koi and sculptures of flat-

chested mermaids. As for the ironclads, those three
consonants tightly breastplating the middle of the word

remind me of stories of how the Portuguese explorer
Ferdinand Magellan met his end— in Philippine

waters, at the hands of a native chieftain, who
was supposed to have rammed the end of his spear

through the hinges of Magellan’s armor and up
his thigh. Poor Magellan, he never did manage

to circumnavigate the globe. His surviving crew
left him in Mactan to die, while they sailed

back eventually homeward, bearing cassia bark,
ginger, cardamom, turmeric, pepper, and cloves.

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