Thursday, January 12, 2017

Poetry Friday: Memento Mori

I'm writing this post on Thursday night, January 12th, the seventh anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti.  The poem I'm sharing today is one I wrote in the fall and read to my writing group.  One of the other members said that although he wasn't in Haiti on that day, he has read so many earthquake accounts that he feels he was.  Like me, he is a writing teacher.  I, too, have read countless earthquake stories.  I never assign them as a topic, but I do encourage kids to write about what happened to them if they feel ready to.  Each time someone entrusts an earthquake story to me, I accept it as an honor, a holy moment. 

Even though it has been seven years, some things haven't faded.  (If you want to read what I wrote at the time, you can find many posts in my archives.)  This poem is about those ordinary days, not anniversaries, when suddenly I am visited by vivid earthquake memories.  

Memento Mori

Sometimes when I sit in my living room
My mind superimposes an image on what my eyes see,
The giant bookcase on the ground,
Sent there by the shaking of the earth
The rocking chair where I nursed my son, crushed,
Books scattered all over the floor.

And sometimes when I worship in the chapel at school
I see us in there on the night of the earthquake
Trying to sing and pray, but frightened by aftershocks,
Bodies thrumming with adrenaline in the cold evening air.

And sometimes there are kids playing hard on the soccer field
And I suddenly see people huddled on the ground,
Spending the night under the sky instead of under a concrete roof
Since so many concrete roofs have crushed so many bodies
Only hours before.

In the middle of life we are in death,
And sometimes I know it with all my being,
Conscious of how fragile that chair, that chapel, that roof,
Aware of the skull beneath the skin,
From dust we came and to dust we shall return.


Here's the roundup.


Brenda Harsham said...

Very moving, Ruth. I think all trauma survivors feel death always has a chair at the table, and life if fragile and blessed.

Linda B said...

The repeating of "and sometimes" apeaks of memories in numerous ways and how they come about, as if you've given them a way to visit, but perhaps this time it won't be as long. Thanks, Ruth, and love the books, too.

Irene Latham said...

Dear Ruth, a holy moment indeed! Thank you for sharing your poem with us. We need you in this world, telling your story, and giving others a safe place to tell theirs. Thank you. xo

Kay said...

I've never experienced an earthquake, much less one that left so much devastation, but your poem gives me a glimpse of how long such an experience lingers. The superimposed images of past with present are haunting.

Tara Smith said...

In the middle of life we are in true. And, for you in Haiti who lived through this, this anniversary must make you all the more conscious of this truth. Beautiful poem, Ruth.

Violet Nesdoly said...

Ruth, thank you for sharing this on PF! It's such a great insight, for me, into how trauma leaves deep scars. This line gives me shivers: "Aware of the skull beneath the skin,"

Keri said...

You give so many sensory details I can see, hear, and feel the experiences you shared with the survivors. I've been in a strong earthquake before but in a rural place so nothing like what you experienced, but it was memorable!

Mitchell Linda said...

Ruth, you had me at "if they are ready" in your introduction. But then the seeing of death in life. Wow. That is a solid poem. Thank you for sharing a part of your heart with us.

Mary Lee said...

Your poem, paired with Keri's Both strong reminders to really be PRESENT in every moment of this life I'm given. I suppose there are times when the overlay of then and now seems like a nightmare, but the blessing of survival and all the good you've done with your life and work since then is a (what's the opposite of nightmare?)...flower blooming hopefully.

Heidi said...

Thank you for this, Ruth. "Bodies thrumming with adrenaline in the cold evening air" carries such tension, such response, whether after or before a big event. You must be a rock to so many, even now.