It’s funny how sharp things seem just before
the moment of calamity announces itself—
The ring of dried toothpaste making the cap
difficult to unscrew, the fact she’s carried
a different purse to work and so doesn’t have
the money she needs to buy a pack of diapers
for the baby. The smell of correction fluid
drying on stencil paper as she steps into
the office next door. Next, her buckling knees,
the billowing heave from somewhere deeper
than asphalt, the ominous grating of the earth.
They run out into the open, away from falling
pillars. Across the city, the sound a wave
makes, breaking a hundred windows. Streams
of people reeling in terror and disbelief:
men clutching their trousers from having lost
control of their bowels, women at full term
going into spontaneous labor on the sidewalk.
In the days and nights that follow, children
crying for their parents; tent cities in parks
pummeled by rain, plunged in mud. The kindness
of strangers bringing plywood sheets for beds,
newspapers for warmth. The morning she joins
a queue, the man and his son handing out bread
and dented canned goods through an opening
in the rubble that used to be a grocery store.
The lift a couple gives her, out looking for water
and gas, news of where to get batteries, first aid
supplies. In a jeepney, an old woman holds up
two army blankets that were thrown over
some corpses on the road: she says they’re thick
and warm and the dead won’t need them anymore
where they’ve gone. In the surreal twilight
she sees them— mile after mile, stacked
in rows. Light flares from distant rescue
vehicles, agonizing slowness of arrival.
It is more than five days before they find enough
coffins, enough graves, for all the newly dead.
In response to Via Negativa: Terrorists under the bed.