Posted by: John Looker | 9 November, 2012

AFTER THE EARTHQUAKES

We are home after two months in New Zealand. This poem is a tribute to family and friends in Christchurch.

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AFTER THE EARTHQUAKES  

Over a year has passed
since the last big one
and still the aftershocks persist.
Still the child looks up from her doll to her mother
and still the mother is careful to smile:
“Only a wobble”.

    (something beneath the crust of the Earth is incomplete)

The glass of course was quickly replaced in the windows
and the roof patched up where the chimney had fallen in,
but the house dips down a little around the back at one corner
and a gap exists where the front step parted from the path.

    (something that moves to an infinitely slower beat)

Check out the neighbourhood: most of the homes are like this,
or boarded up, or cleared completely away.
And down in the business district  –
in a No-Man’s Land of fractured blocks –
the army maintains its watch.

    (maybe the emergence of Life from primordial seas
    was premature,
    the land not ready for feet)

And here comes one right now!
Unannounced. Unarguable.
We feel it first as a profound blow.
It is heard as a low thud
and is followed by a trembling in the floor and in the walls.

    (here, where subterranean continents meet
    to contend like Titans)

“Magnitude : 4.2” we learn,
“intensity : strong”.
A wobble.

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© John Stevens 2012

But it is inspiring to witness the numerous ways in which people carry on and in which the city is coming back to life, renewed. Here for example is the temporary shopping and entertainment mall constructed from landscaped shipping containers:

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And here is one of many examples of a clearance site that has been landscaped or put to use by the local community:

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I shall shortly resume my series of poems that look at life through work – I have several in draft.

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Responses

  1. Hello, my friend.

    You know how much I like verses about nature. I really liked this one. You have the gift of transparently sharing the climax you envisioned firsthand. Thank you.

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    • Hello Zé Ruy – yes, you have often reflected nature and science in the pieces you write, and I like that.

      Like

  2. Hi John, good to know you are home again safely after your trip! I hope you had a good time, in spite of the devistation the earthquake caused, That there still are aftershocks after all this time, wow. A wobble… You describe the sensation of a coming afterschock very well! Looking forward to more of your poems.

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  3. Hello again, Ina. Thank you for being a regular and encouraging reader!

    Like

  4. Great poem John. I like the way you spliced in the rhyming sections. I really like the line: something beneath the crust of the earth is incomplete. I read it as, something within all of us is incomplete. Funny how allegory pokes its head around corners sometimes. 🙂 P.S. it’s good to have you back

    C]:•€=

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    • That’s an interesting take on the poem, Fred, and it makes perfect sense to me. Thank you for mentioning it.

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  5. Hi John,

    I have a friend who comes from Christchurch. Her family all still live there.
    She was in Australia at the time of the quake and now lives in this country.
    She tells me that in a strange sort of way she wishes she had been there at the time because there is a whole community experience going on that she feels distanced from when she goes back which she can not be part of because she was not there.
    She also told me about the shipping container mall, but I could not envisage it until I saw your photograph.
    I will send her a link to this post.

    David

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    • Thanks David. I hope your friend finds my lines an acceptable response to the earthquake.

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      • She did John,

        In particular she liked the line –
        “maybe the emergence of life from the primordial seas was premature, the land not ready for feet”

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        • Thanks for showing it to her, David. I’m reassured by her reaction to the poem – I wasn’t sure how it would strike people from the city.

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  6. Hi John: it’s good to have you back. We enjoyed our trip to London even without your company. Maybe we’ll get there again one of these days. Best part of the trip: the Parthenon Sculptures. Biggest disappointment: not getting in to see a Shakespeare play.
    I thought for sure there would be a stack of New Zealand poems—but I guess this is it. A portrait ‘after’ the earthquakes. Right away a little John Stevens’ subtlety: for of course we don’t know that, do we? That’s exactly the problem. The earth shook in a way we didn’t think possible, and there’s nothing to prevent it from happening again. I’ve only been in the tiniest of tiny earthquakes, (and, truth to tell, hurricane Sandy has quelled my desire for such excitements), but I imagine you must take away a sense of that somehow existence has lost its stability. Despite all our knowledge of the movements of the earth around the sun, the earth still seems the center of our lives. Shake that, baby, and you are fooling around where no one should be allowed to fool around. It is consequently a nice technique to juxtapose a quiet family life with increasingly mytho-poetic accounts of what-the-hell is going on down there. Something is incomplete. It moves to an infinitely slower beat. The land is not ready for feet. Subterranean continents meet. Indeed, the vast plates that the continents ride upon do seem like titans, heaving vast weights in a monstrous clash with gravity. Time, I’d say, to beat a retreat.
    It may be the primal poetic activity—to use words to cope with what they cannot possibly cope with. Call it a wobble and it doesn’t seem so bad, does it? Or does it? This poem, I would say, is about a state ‘after the earthquakes’; it’s about memory and anticipation. After all, it seems like it should be easy to live on this big blue globe. How were we to know of the molten, burning mass of rock so hidden down below? And there isn’t any where else to go, is there? Telling ourselves it’s just a wobble may help—for there really isn’t any place to go. I’m reminded of Simone Weil’s use of the terms ‘gravity’ and ‘grace’ as a sort of summation of the conflicting forces in our lives. Gravity pulls us down, grace lifts us up. There are a lot of ways to wobble I guess.

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    • It’s good to hear that you enjoyed your London trip, Jim, and such a shame I was away. I watched the Hurricane Sandy news from NZ and wondered at the time how you and others were coping. The parallel between these natural disasters was very much in my mind – and yet there is something uniquely disturbing about each. In the case of earthquakes there is the weird sense of instability in the foundations of life – you put it well in your comment. With a hurricane? I can’t say from experience, but perhaps there is a sense of being exposed to aggression in the forces of nature. We can understand those ancient gods – in Greece and elsewhere. (I’m glad you got to the British Museum by the way. May we expect any London poems from you?)

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  7. I am so glad you are back, John. I have been struggling to keep up with those on wordpress that I most care about myself, but for different reasons than yours. The election in the United States flummoxed me, and Ethel and I have put the house up for sale after trying to spruce it up a bit. I am retiring in the Spring, and we’re off to Wisconsin if we can sell the New Mexico house.
    I have been in Christchurch and have no conception of how the earthquakes have affected it, but from your poem, with its reassurance that is no reassuring, it seems to have levied a psychic toll that is not so easy to deal with as life goes one, especially if the wobbles continue and remind the people living there that the earth is still dancing
    (here, where subterranean continents meet
    to contend like Titans)
    and
    It is heard as a low thud
    and is followed by a trembling in the floor and in the walls.
    (maybe the emergence of Life from primordial seas
    was premature,
    the land not ready for feet)
    Maybe John Stevens is a poet that can bring alive for the rest of us the depth of what it means when the “big one” has come and resulted in human spirit that goes about the work of recovery even though
    …most of the homes are like this,
    or boarded up, or cleared completely away.
    And down in the business district –
    in a No-Man’s Land of fractured blocks –
    the army maintains its watch.

    Like

    • I wish you the very best of luck with your plans, Thomas. You are going to be busy for a while! And thank you for the comment on this poem.

      Like

  8. I enjoyed this poem from beginning to end and especially liked your use of parentheses and the image of Titan and the repetition of “wobble”. I’ve never had to live with this sense of anticipation and dread literally under my feet, my home, my streets…well captured here.

    Like

    • Thanks Anna – that’s really encouraging.

      Like

  9. living in such places can be quite scary! we are so helpless against powerful earth!

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  10. Only just seen this Dad. Makes me feel a bit sad for the Dummers, but glad they are moving on. Wobbles are a scary thing for a small child to experience!

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  11. I like the matter-of-factness mixed with a bit of wobble and a ponder about subterranean (subconscious) tremors. Hope the contending titans remain asleep these days!

    Like


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