Holes in the Awning

The following haibun appeared in my 1990 earthquake haiku chapbook, Tremors, written in response to the 17 October 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, a 7.1-magnitude temblor that killed 63 people in the San Francisco area. At the time I was living in Foster City, a bedroom community built on landfill halfway between San Francisco and San Jose. All my bookcases were toppled, and the gas furnace shifted in the crawl space, making it dangerous to stay in my home until it was inspected. The building where I worked had many broken windows and other damage, and while the tragic stories of the earthquake faded from national news in a few weeks, the challenges we faced lasted months and even years. A dedication from the book to all the earthquake victims appears at the end of this haibun. See the Press Here page for the book where this sequence appears. See also Tremors (with a description of the earthquake plus additional poems) and “The Last Leaf” haiku sequence.       +

Early this morning a quick jolt shakes me from sleep. New noises crack into waking consciousness. Before I know it the shaking stops. The house returns to silence. As I reach for the radio to hear confirmation, I notice tightness in my throat, my rushed heart. A healthy fear has come to stay.

                out from the covers

                the child’s eyes


        Only a small temblor, but it sets me abuzz for the day. The memories of October 17 return. Broken glass, tumbled bookshelves, ceiling tiles, filing cabinets. Evacuating our office building. No power overnight. Sleeping in a friend’s living room. Flashlights, candles, battery-operated TVs, radios. Returning home to find everything vertical laid horizontal. The days of cleaning up, the tears when seeing the news, the cheers at small miracles.

        And in the weeks that follow, my tickets for a cancelled play. A concert rescheduled away from a condemned auditorium. And then a Saturday night visit to the rubble of the Cypress Structure.

                still air

                at midnight

                onlookers silent

        That night we met a man in vigil. He’d had a friend they’d only just pulled out. We stood in stillness as he talked, how he had almost been driving that road himself. Above us, floodlights played on crumbled freeways slabs. He said he’d been there every night since the quake, watching, thinking.

        Our eyes turned to the quiet freeway, with the twist of a crushed blue van barely visible between the cold wreckage of pancaked concrete. Rescue-worker graffiti marking the location and sex of victims. Soot marks where fire raged through remains in the rubble. And through the all-night roar of distant bulldozers and wrecking cranes—the silence . . .

                a passing train

                her body tightens

The visit to Santa Cruz was almost an accident—passing through on the way from Big Sur. Downtown devastated, even six months later. Traffic still rerouted. Barricades everywhere. Piles of bricks, and still the wrecking balls swing. The bookstore I looked for had been relocated to a temporary shelter set up in a parking lot. Going-out-of-business signs.

        I walked through downtown. April tourists with cameras. The blocks of closed-off streets, empty streets, cluttered with piles of twisted rubble. One surviving business. “Deli on the fault-line,” said its hand-drawn sign. Bent nails, smashed bricks, girders, concrete, all strewn amid condemned buildings, some still standing. Looking up through windows—only the sky. In April, Halloween decorations still in the windows. A black cat’s shadow across a full moon. Cobwebs, pumpkins, witches, ghosts. Between vacant alleys, young trees with new-growth leaves. At the end of the seventh block, a brick-shaped hole ripped through an awning.

                fresh pavement

                a child’s footprint

                and autumn leaves

        Now a year later, Oakland plays the World Series again. Earthquake books lean together on my bookshelves. This morning’s quake only enough to rattle the dishes, but more than enough to rattle fearful memory. Shaky Tuesday, 1989. Today we live with what we lost. We live with what we gained.

In Memory

On Tuesday, October 17th 1989, the ground shook under the feet of millions of Northern Californians. The Loma Prieta quake shot to 7.1 on the Richter scale, causing widespread fear and panic, and billions of dollars’ worth of property damage. For some the quake lasted mere seconds. For others, its effects lingered much longer. Named in Spanish for the “dark hill” in the Santa Cruz mountains under which lay its epicenter, the Loma Prieta quake claimed at least fifty [actually 63] unsuspecting victims. This book, published one year later, is dedicated to their memory with the hope that none died in vain.