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A poem I wrote 30 years ago, in the days following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Oakland, October 17-19, 1989


When structures already
improbably huge simply
break like some toy

they suddenly loom
like giants absurd
on the horizon

public domain photo, U.S. Geological Survey

a fifty foot section
of the Bay Bridge
erector set tilt

like a garage door
said one witness closing
on eastbound traffic

on the lower deck
the ground level shots
of the upper deck

of the Cypress section of
the Nimitz
a mile to a mile and a quarter

public domain photo, U.S. Geological Survey

stretch of freeway
collapsed onto the lower
slabs some 600 tons

with no right to be
so impossible to lift
to make survival

so unlikely


My friend Steve
emerged from the ground floor
stairwell of

the Mills Building downtown
joking successfully
We're the only survivors

from the tenth floor
and went off
to catch the bus home

at Candlestick the World Series
the Giants down
two games to none

the crowd cheered
I jumped up from

my castered chair
to better experience
the full effect

walked barefoot across
the room looking around
at what might topple

public domain photo, U.S. Geological Survey

watching the coverage
the power of TV

to provide desired information
images like the power
of the federal government

to provide relief which is to say
money but what
then do you do?

phoned my parents
called around and
worried about Steve

who had not
yet made it home


public domain photo, U.S. Geological Survey

The Marina district
of San Francisco built
poetically enough

on landfill
the hardest hit
providing most of the

standard earthquake footage
fire and in
the dawn rubble

houses fallen
into one another residents
and their possessions

gathered into
the streets and
the sightseers Pete Wilson

public domain photo, U.S. Geological Survey

the Channel 7 anchor had to
become stern
you're only getting in the way

of everything we need to
be doing there and
have the decency

to stay away
but in an unrelated segment people
are really pulling together

neither panache nor nobility
nor gross insensitivity

those who could help
did so
those with opportunity

one Charles Schwab employee
in a tie and improvised
I Survived the Big One cap

strolled collecting
suitable fragments others
one lady

dispossessed baked
in the sun for two hours waiting
for Mayor Agnos to speak but

the shelter volunteers
have been wonderful to us
those called

public domain photo, U.S. Geological Survey

to heroism perhaps
achieved that end
which depended

on where you were
which next Tuesday will be
according to

Fay Vincent the Commissioner of Baseball
Candlestick again

just a little nervous
or forgetful
or as one newscaster

on the Marina refugees
these people
have been denied the opportunity

to surround themselves
with themselves


public domain photo, U.S. Geological Survey

PDS forgive
my use again
of your three line

and I needed your way
of applying a structure

to areas too vast
to be seen wholly
except by telecopter

the artificial topology
of downtown
the delineating connecting

lines of freeways and bridges
and the prone
ruin of the Nimitz

public domain photo, U.S. Geological Survey

the faint patterns of streets
among houses we build
over the surface

of this world