Its long shadow

Every year since 1990,
on the 16th of July we float

paper offerings and flower boats
on the lake and ring the church

bells at half past 4, remembering
the earthquake that struck

our mountain city in the north—
how in its aftermath we pulled

the dead out of fallen buildings
and stacked them three deep

on the roadsides, how the only two
funeral parlors in town ran out

of coffins. We counted my father among
the dead, though it was his heart

that succumbed a few days after
the temblors. No matter what

the cause— pinned under broken
hotel pillars, buried in a bus

under a mountain avalanche, crushed
in the ordinary rubble of our damaged

homes— we knew Death as a mouth
that yawned awake in the bowels

of the earth and then went foraging.
For days and days, we followed

the stench of where it was last
seen. Flies led rescue parties down

to sightless pockets where bodies
slumped beyond the reach of trackers

and machines. We saved what could be
saved, hoisted the living back into

the world— until it tired of us and left,
its shadow dark as buzzard wing.

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