Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Earth - For the people of Canterbury

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

Written after the September quake 2010 and before the February quake 2011

I wasn't there in September 2010 or February 2011. I wrote this poem from the words of those who were there in September. The voices I heard on radio, on TV, in blogs, in Facebook. The voices of my friends and those I'd never met. It is about their language and their stories.

To me, it was like all the words were there scrabbling for a handhold in the ephermeral world of the media and internet - needing a place to rest and to hold each other up. I felt I had to at least try. Since then, we've had the terrible February quake and I found it more difficult to know what to do with all those scrabbling calling words. They were less happy to stay with me. Other people have, since then, found a place to put them - in books and articles. In poems.

Jane Bowron's Old Bucky & Me (Awa Press) is one that stands out, and now there's Martin van Beynen's book Trapped which survivors have applauded. Interestingly, Martin - a Press journalist - said he hoped the stories in the book would provide an 'everlasting record of what people went through.' As opposed to the other records of the day.

Reading words on the page about that earthquake is not an easy task for those who went through it. Jeffrey Paparoa Holman reviewed Trapped for the Listener.  He says he couldn't be objective about it, that it is a powerful read but that, in all honesty, he hasn't been able to finish it.  I can understand that. Jeffrey has written his own collection of poems about the earthquake which some will find difficult to read while for others it will be a way forward. A catharthis. And more will come...

'Earth' appeared on my blog shortly after the September quake and I've read it on radio twice - on Jim Mora's show and on the special Radio NZ show about the earthquake. It was also read at a Christchurch fundraiser in Geelong Australia, organised by Alison Wong, after the February quake.

There are other poems on Tuesday Poem this week that write about the earthquake a year ago and the time after it - written by Christchurch poets and others. Go here - and check out the sidebar.

My thoughts are with the people of Canterbury today.


Tim Jones said...

It's good to see "Earth" again, Mary - a very powerful and moving poem.

lillyanne said...

I admired this so much when you first posted it, and I'm very glad to read it again.

TK Roxborogh said...

Just read this aloud to the whanau (after watching the documentary). Lovely to read; powerful; potent.
Thank you, Mary

Cattyrox said...

Such a strong poem, Mary. Thank you for reposting.

Helen Lowe said...

Thank you for thinking of us, mary.