October 20, 2016 / Sandra Beasley
The quake was born in Mineral, Virginia, with a magnitude of only 5.8, yet cracks appeared in the Washington Monument. The cathedral lost two pinnacles.
To explain the damage, seismologists will announce that we sit on only the thinnest layer of silts—weak ocean sediments—and beneath that, a hard, crystalline rock whose shaking energy creates an echo chamber of the soft mud.
I drive to the house you’ve lived in for as long as I’ve been alive, ninety miles north of Mineral, and park next to a spot where you used to grow snapdragons. I wait on the porch where geraniums once stood sentry, nodding their incomplete heads.
We walk the house together, straightening paintings. My mother has asked me to check the stove, to move dishtowels away from the burners, to look for mold in the fridge. You worry about getting things in order for the girls. No one knows who “the girls” are. What about the good china? The crystal flutes?
The dining table is cluttered, samovar hunkering in the corner. We peer through the cabinet’s leaded panes at teacups and gilded saucers, champagne coupes.
If I had not opened the door, they’d be there still. Instead, stacks of porcelain sag and swing, the fractures vertebral, an unstoppable popping. Someone always lets the earthquake out. You laugh, a kindness or symptom, as I kneel to gather what has broken.
I'm struck by the fragility in this poem. The fragility of nature and of being human, particularly as one grows older. I keep returning to the phrase "You laugh, a kindness or symptom. . . " The tight structure contrasts the narrative in ways allowing for both loss and expansion.
Sandra Beasley is the author of Count the Waves; I Was the Jukebox, winner of the Barnard Women Poets Prize; and Theories of Falling, winner of the New Issues Poetry Prize. She is also the author of Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, a memoir and cultural history of food allergy. Honors include a Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts; the Center for Book Arts Chapbook Prize; distinguished writer residencies at Cornell College, Lenoir-Rhyne University, and the University of Mississippi; two DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities Artist Fellowships; and the Maureen Egen Exchange Award from Poets & Writers. Her prose has appeared in such venues as the New York Times, The Washington Post and The Oxford American. She lives in Washington, D.C., and teaches as part of the University of Tampa’s low-residency MFA program.