Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Earthquake - the words

After the last earthquake in Christchurch, I posted a poem trying to haul together what had happened there, and express what I'd seen and read at my safe distance in Wellington. I post it again today - the earthquake in Christchurch yesterday has devastated that city and its people. It was far worse in effect than the one last September, but the stuff of this poem does, I think, hold true, especially the opening lines -- and not just for the people of Christchurch but for all of us in NZ at the moment ... 'it mobs us/leaves us/immobile//we are aghast...' 

For the victims of the Canterbury Earthquake, September 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


Anonymous said...

Thank you Mary.

Meliors Simms said...

just as powerful and moving as it was the first time I read it, maybe more, since I am even more emotionally shaken, even at my safe distance

Elisabeth said...

A superb poem, Mary, one that captures the devastation of these days. Faultlines in the earth. I thank you.

Claire G said...

Yes, the power of this poem to evoke the force of nature is... indescribable.

Thank you for posting it again.

T. said...


Claire G said...

Just seen on Facebook (via Booksellers NZ?)

Lynn Freeman is hosting Radio New Zealand National this Saturday and Sunday 12-5pm and would very much like to either talk to writers or read out their responses to the earthquake - poems or other written work - on air.

Please email Lynn or call 04 474 1417.

Mary McCallum said...

Thank you everyone for revisiting the poem and commenting on it. I really appreciate it. And thank you so much Claire for telling me about Lynn's call for writer responses to the earthquake. I have rung and left a message.

susan t. landry said...

mary, a facebook friend posted this, this morning...(small world, gratifyingly small & caring; it's a gorgeous and heart-rending poem, mary):

xo susan

Kathleen Jones said...

This is a wonderful poem Mary. It captures it exactly without even a hint of spurious sentiment. It was good in September, but even better now because it resonates - we're thinking of the dead when we read it.

Cattyrox said...

Wonderful, Mary - so powerful and vivid. Thank you.

Mary McCallum said...

Read Earth on National Radio on Sunday afternoon around 1.45. Jeffrey Paparoa Holman was in the Christchurch studio and read his response to the September Quake. So thanks again Claire and others who brought Lynn Freeman's call for earthquake writing to my attention.