That first Canterbury (7.1) earthquake, September 4, 2010, seems a long long time ago now. It’s overshadowed by the  February 22 2011 6.3 earthquake which, although smaller in magnitude, caused significant loss of life; and by the continuing aftershocks that have left Cantabrians exhausted.  I visited Christchurch in November 2010 and heard many stories. This one affected me most. (I wrote it as an experiment, to take some screenplay writing principles into a prose poem.)

Song for the broken woman with the big warm heart; for lisa’s work, hovering at the edge of the page; & for Jennine, her feet inside her rhinestone sandals reaching deep into the earth, & her voice-that-made- my-hair-stand-on-end and which I cannot-otherwise-find-words-for

It was a quiet night. A quiet night.
A late wintery spring night.

She turned her silver Mercedes into the drive. The drive that bumped across the field.
Drove her silver Mercedes down
past the big house.
To the cottage.
A little wooden hut really.
Two rooms.
With a kitchen tacked on one side.
And a bathroom on the other.
All just big enough for one.

And she quietly prepared for bed.

And over at the big house a car door slammed.
And the big door of the three-car garage rattled shut.
And a bird called. Briefly.

She turned out the light.

About 3.48 a.m.
the cats took off
(& were not seen again).
The birds rose from the trees.
Whoosh. Whoooooosh.

And then the train came.
Through the cottage wall. Behind her bed.
No. It can’t be a train. There are no trains here. It must be a truck.

Then she got it.
Woke up.

The stones in the ground ground on.
And on.
The earth’s tympani.
Gusts of its giant tambourine.

She shook.
Shaken. Stirred. Shaken.
Crack. Crack. The cottage hogged.
She tried to hug her self.
Shaking.

In the dark
it took a while to open the back door.
The key wouldn’t fit the keyhole.
Was it the keyhole?
She lost her way.
Because it was dark.
And the fridge had fallen.
And was in the way.

And the three car garage door had torqued.
So the silver Mercedes was the only transport.
For everyone.

And when they gathered at the house down the road
not one of them thought of making everyone a cup of tea.
Instead, they told one another stories
that usually
they wouldn’t have told
that
may have been
dangerous to tell.
But with twenty-two splits in the land around them
and a couple of really deep holes
they had to get those stories out fast.
In case.

And
finally
she had a cup of tea in her hand
and she looked out the window
and saw a circle of cattle.
Standing.
Heads together.
Motionless.

Look
she said.
And, hands circling their cups,
gripping their cups,
they all looked.
And they didn’t move.
And the cattle, black against gray, didn’t move.
And the watchers didn’t move.
For some time.

Then
a single cow moved a single ear.
And another text came in: R u ok.
And then the first after shock.

Down the road at morning milking time
the cows would not stand.
They would not move.
And when she turned the silver Mercedes onto the road,
driving to work:
(to work?)
she drove very slowly.
Sobbing now & then.
She saw birds on the road
which did not move.
Though they were alive.
And she stopped.
And sent a text: R u ok.

Days later another text came in
from far away:
Are you alive?
She did not answer.
She put the last load in the boot of the silver Mercedes.
And tossed the cellphone on top.
Then she walked past the cottage.
Past the puriri tree.
To where it all became a little wild.
And lay
face
down
on the earth.

Drawing: JOHN FRANCIS
_______________________________

Remember, we can donate to the women’s refuges in Otautahi/Christchurch. They still need our help:  here or here (Shakti Asian Women’s refuge) or here (Otautahi Maori Women’s refuge).

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