Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tuesday Poem: Earth

For the people of Canterbury after the September earthquake, 2010

Day 1
it mobs us
leaves us

we are aghast and naked in the doorway 
clutching each other, where’s the dog? 
we are flying for the children, calling
their names, we are the woman up to her neck 
in it, scrabbling for a handhold, calling --
the child behind her on the path stay there 
the one she’s rushing to collect stay there 
we are the boy running to the grandfather, calling --
we are the family watching the capsizing house 

stay               there

earth in our ears
earth in our eyes
earth in our hair

Day 2
it runs its fingers  
along the fences
and power poles
leaves behind
the sound
anxiety makes

there are
early births
and heart attacks
sleep flies from
windows like
featherless birds

Day 3
the faultline is the

in the spine and the


and neck

and shoulder bones


are the

Day 4
it nudges
a dog does
the child vomit
his little brother
and shake and shake

the looters take what they like

the homeless take what they can

the mother says she can’t take anymore

the dairy owner says take what you like pay later

Day 5
it changes
the way we
face the world
that shop we
knew that street
we grew up in
that church
in Little River
we drove past on the way to our holidays

Day 6
the crane             drivers      are having a        field day
   one  saves              a chandelier and        bows      to the applause
one unpicks a      wall brick     by brick      and leaves small
       pyramids ready for       rebuilding    there are too many
toppled chimneys      too many buildings on their     knees
nothing can     be done about         Telegraph Road

Day 7
earth in our hair
earth in our ears
earth in our eyes

we are naked in the doorway
we are shaking like leaves
we are up to our neck in it

scrabbling for a handhold calling -- 


                                        Mary McCallum


Melissa Green said...

Terrifying, Mary. You nailed it for those of us who were not there. Very moving.

LentenStuffe said...

Mary McCallum,

This is it. Wow!

lillyanne said...

Mary, that's a bloody wonderful poem.
Belinda x

Claire Beynon said...

This IS it, Mary. Yes. The form of it, bang on.

I read your poem before I shut down my computer last night and woke with it in my throat this morning. What a powerful gesture of recognition and solidarity this is. L, C x

Emma said...

This is a fantastic poem Mary.

TK Roxborogh said...

Please, Mary, may I have permission to print off and give to my students to look at, point to, touch bits, sigh over?

harvey said...


This is a wonderful poem. In its own (write). The added spice to me is your smuggling in of stuff from my prose piece.

Mary McCallum said...

Oh yes, Harvey, I did smuggle! 'Day 5' is yours. In feeling and in detail. Except you lived there of course, my friend Penny holidays there and was horrified to thing of that church damaged... So thank you for your lovely prose which I read a few times and passed on to friends.

And Tania, by all means use the poem.

And thank you to everyone else for your comments - so generous.

Anonymous said...

This has made me sad. Hugs to all of you in Christchurch from an Aucklander who loves and knows the city and is thinking of you constantly.


Anonymous said...

shivers dancing up my spine. A perfect poem Mary

Penelope said...

Terrific, Mary. Thank you.

T. said...

What I especially love about this piece is that it captures not only the moment of the earthquake itself but also how it tremors on, in so many ways. I experienced my first earthquake at the age of eight, while at mass...

My favorite lines:
the looters take what they like

the homeless take what they can

the mother says she can’t take anymore

the dairy owner says take what you like pay later


Mary, I simply love our community here. It has had the effect of dragging me kicking and screaming back into the poetry scene, where I'd burned out in many ways some years ago. My gratitude goes out to you. xoT.

Mary McCallum said...

Thanks Anon, GG, Penelope and T.Clear - all!

And for me, T Clear, the new thing about this earthquake is how shocking the aftershocks are... how long they go on for... how debilitating they are. I feel so for the people of Canterbury. It is a terrible and restless time.

And I agree with you about Tuesday Poem, it has made poetry so vivid and so present for me again. I am stimulated and challenged at every turn, and amazed by how many poems I have written off the back of it.... and grateful. I am so glad you are too.

Kathleen Jones said...

Absolutely fantastic Mary - so many of these 'big event' poems are tacky - this isn't and I thinkit could become one of teh definitive records of the event!

Mary McCallum said...

Thanks so much, Kathleen -- you're home! I smuggled in something of your experience into the poem... I hope that's okay... this line: ' we are flying for the children, calling' - you said this about your daughter and son-in-law... and it struck me over and over. in the ensuing days .. that image of parents running for their children ... and the poor woman who fell up to her neck in quicksand running to collect her son...

Alexia said...

A great poem Mary - thank you. The part I keep thinking about especially is Day 3 - so clever to use the skeleton image!

But it's all great

Sarah (Catching the Magic) said...

Mary, I am so glad to have come across your writing.

I have just started dabbling in poetry this year. I find it great therapy for the mind! I am a stay at home Mum to three girls and it was my eldest daughter that suggested we write a poem a week; and I'm so glad she has kept me to that!

Your poem is so brilliant. I love the style and the way the words form a picture of a crumbling scene or building - the words make a piece of art to look at, as much as they evoke such raw emotion and a sense of fear and helplessness when read. We are so insignificant as a species, so weak, when put against the force of nature.

This week my daughter suggested 'Earth' as our topic (last Sunday she posted the theme). It is eerily apt given the terrible event in Japan this week. I'd be grateful and honoured, if you would pop on over to my blog and maybe link up with your amazing poem?

Kind regard, Sarah

Jane Hole said...

'Earth' is such a sensitive gift to Christchurch, Mary. You've run your words unerringly along the nerve paths of our city - and it makes us feel better to know you understand.