On the Navigation of Unstable Surfaces

     How many turns in place
on the school playground—your head
     flung upward, your eyes looking 
straight at the steeple of the church 
     next to the gym— before you're 
gripped with vertigo or tip ground-
     ward? Once, on TV, a seismologist
offered: what if, between the big magnitude 
     quakes that flatten cities, disrupt
our lives and push lava out of volcano
     cones, the tiny, daily tremors beneath 
the earth are too fast, too close together
     so they register on the needle
as a line we think is flat? There are
     towns with roofs still sunk in
hardened clay; buried belfries and plaster
     saints whose cloth robes have turned
the color of dust, whose heads now 
     resemble shredded dandelions. Stippled 
indentations on walls mark the places 
     where birds careened out of the mouths 
of cliffs, colliding with their own 
     displacement. I can't imagine how it is
that a tortoise holds up the pillar of
     the world; how a legless snail holds 
tight to this surface of trembling filaments.  

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