Thursday, August 19, 2021

Poetry Friday: Earthquake Vocabulary

(If you're here looking for suggestions on how and where to donate to Haitian earthquake relief, scroll down to the end of the post.) 


My family and I experienced the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. For eleven years, my life has been divided into "before the earthquake" and "after the earthquake." For example, it was after the earthquake that I started sharing my poetry here on my blog. It seemed the least I could do when friends in Haiti were doing so much to help with relief, and I was in the States with my kids. 


Well, now there is a new earthquake in my life. This one didn't happen in our city, like the one in 2010. Last Saturday morning, when the shaking sent my husband and me running out of our house, we thought it was just a small earthquake, though an intense one. We stood in front of our house, where eleven years ago I had felt the earth shake while holding on to my seventh grade daughter's hand and repeating again and again, "It's OK, it's OK." We watched the hummingbird feeder swing back and forth, leading us to remark that even though the hummingbirds have never shown any interest in that feeder, maybe it can have a new life as an earthquake indicator. Then we went back inside.

I checked the USGS website, which used to be open on my desktop at all times, right away. I was shocked to learn that the earthquake we had felt had been a 7.0 (later they updated that to 7.2). That's when we realized that it had happened a long way away, on the southern peninsula of Haiti. And gradually over the next couple of days we learned more about the sickening results of the quake. On Thursday I read these statistics in Le Nouvelliste, the main newspaper of Port-au-Prince: 2,189 are dead and 12,268 injured. There are 30,122 houses destroyed and 42,737 damaged. One hundred and twenty-seven schools, 60 places of worship, and 25 health facilities are destroyed or damaged. An estimated 650,000 people need aid urgently. And around 615 houses were flooded by Tropical Depression/Storm Grace. 


Here's a poem I wrote in April 2010. We're feeling its reality once again. 


Earthquake Vocabulary

Here are some words I’d rather you not use metaphorically:
Richter scale,

Here are some words I used before but shouldn’t have:

Here are some words I used to know:

Here’s a word I thought I knew but really didn’t:

by Ruth, from


I was honored to have one of my photos featured on Margaret's This Photo Wants to be a Poem this week. Head over and see what people did with the image, which I've pasted below. 



If you can, please do donate to the relief in Haiti. While this earthquake didn't affect as many people as the one in Port-au-Prince in 2010, there are unique challenges. These communities are remote and difficult to access at the best of times, and these are far from the best of times. Haiti's government is in disarray after two years of political crisis, and the assassination just over a month ago of the president. There is unrest and violence between where I live in the capital city and where the earthquake happened in the south. Plus, oh yeah, there's a pandemic, and Haiti just received vaccinations for the first time in June; very few people have yet been vaccinated. If it sounds like an impossible situation, it feels that way to me too.

Since people have been asking, I've been recommending some organizations that were on the spot immediately helping. Some are faith-based and some are not.

HERO is an amazing organization. They provide ambulance and EMT service on a subscription basis. People who can afford it buy memberships, and those funds support the work HERO does responding to car accidents and other emergencies. So they are able to help people who can't afford care. This is such a simple and brilliant system. We have been members for a while and can't recommend them highly enough. They were on the ground right away rescuing people and they still are. They are working with the US Coast Guard. 


MAF has a long-term presence in Haiti. They have small planes, great pilots, and lots of experience with disasters, and they were flying in supplies right away, both after the 2010 earthquake and after this one. They are also taking doctors from Port-au-Prince who would have a hard time getting to the south by road.

Hôpital Lumière in Bonne Fin was damaged in the quake, but they continue to give care. There's a drop-down menu at that link where you can choose to send your donation straight to the hospital.


Partners in Health (Zanmi Lasante) is Paul Farmer's organization. They have a proven track record of the POP (Preferential Option for the Poor). They have already been doing great work with COVID and now are responding to this disaster.

A friend who has worked on the island a long time suggested this physical therapy center. It's called Fondation Tous Ensemble and my friend writes: "As long as I've known her, 10 years or so, my wonderful friend Consuelo Alzamora has been running Fondation Tous Ensemble, the only physical therapy clinic in SW Haiti, on a shoestring budget. I have no idea how they pull it off, but she and her team help people heal and deal after every kind of injury, strokes and so on. If you have ever had PT, then you know how vital it is to healthy recovery. In the wake of the 14 August earthquake, she and her team is OK, but the clinic and most of her team's houses are damaged. Right now her team is scrambling to do all they can to help treat the many many injured by the quake. The demands will only increase in the months ahead. If you are looking for a worthy place to donate in Haiti, look no further. Your donation can make a big difference. Please give generously, if you can. Last I checked, their donations page had not been updated after the quake. They are just too busy." 

The Salvation Army is very active in Haiti and this organization is at its best in a disaster. 


Friends for Health in Haiti works in the mountains above Jeremie. 

These are just a few organizations I or trusted friends can personally vouch for. You don't have to use my list. There are many lists available online. Please find an organization whose values you approve and send them a few dollars if you are able.

The Poetry Friday roundup is here.


Rose Cappelli said...

Thoughts and prayers to you and all those affected by the earthquake.

Linda B said...

Ruth, I am so sorry that this has happened again to Haiti, have watched the news as much as possible to know what's happening. Your poem would be a cautionary tale for many to write when considering their own circumstance. There are words that have certain true meanings rather than thoughtless ones. And, thanks for the list for helping. I am rarely sure until I hear from a "source", like you! I'm glad you are okay!

Susan T. said...

Ruth, that's a great poem, and it breaks my heart, as does the situation in Haiti. I'm glad you and your family are okay.

Denise Krebs said...

Thank you, Ruth, for your poem and the vocabulary that we use willy nilly without thinking of all those who really have lived through these seismic upheavals and catastrophes. God bless you and all the people of Haiti. Peace and comfort. Thank you for the links.

Margaret Simon said...

Ruth, thanks for letting me use your photo as a prompt this week. I haven't decided who to donate to yet, but I need to. I've gotten emails from the Episcopal Relief Fund, and I've donated to them before. The sensitivity to the vocabulary of earthquakes is something I would not have thought about before. I hope you see hope in the flowers, the birds, and the students you teach.

Carol Labuzzetta said...

Ruth, Thank you for sharing your first-hand experiences with the earthquakes on Haiti. My heart goes out to you and I will shift my donations from the Goodwill Industry to the Salvation Army, locally. I hope that can, in a small way, help. We have friends that regularly make mission trips to Haiti to help build houses in your communities. One goes regularly, several times a year. He is a social worker with a huge heart. I have also sent used eyeglasses with another friend who sends them to Haiti. My hope is that things can improve for your home island, Ruth. Take care. Even though your poem is disturbing due to what you've experienced, it is also very powerful. We tend to not really think of the words we chose - your post made me stop and consider this. Thanks.

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Ruth...I'm so sad that you have occasion to repost your brilliant, poignant 2010 poem. I really appreciate the list of organizations (unfortunately in some cases literally) on the ground, and I know that you are lending what aid you can. We are all thinking of you and yours, even the many you don't know personally. 💗💗💗

Linda Mitchell said...

Thank you so much, Ruth. I heard through the grapevine that you were OK and was so glad to hear that. But, so many aren't. My church has been loving on a community in Haiti for a while. I'm sure they will be involved as soon as they can. I so appreciate the relief links. Your goodness. It's a gut punch. Thank you for being you and the kind of brave I'm sure you never guessed you'd have to be. Bless the hummingbird feeder.

Marilyn Miner said...

Thank you for teaching me through your poem and for your brining greater awareness to the suffering in Haiti. I will be donating for sure.

Jone said...

Ruth, your poem of 2010 still resonates. It was devastating to hear that another earthquake had happened. thanks for the organization list, I donated,

mbhmaine said...

Your poem, so spare and so powerful, and the ongoing list of disasters impacting Haiti brought tears to my eyes. It's hard to wrap my head around all the suffering Haiti has gone and is going through. Thanks for providing a list of trustworthy organizations that are making a difference. Stay safe.

Mary Lee said...

Making beauty from heartbreak -- what poets do.

Thank you for the list of organizations. I've donated once, but it doesn't seem like enough. Time to send more.

Elisabeth said...

It is heartbreaking that your words from 11 years ago have new relevance. The poem is beautiful and a reminder that we, who play with words, who sort through them, searching for just the right one, need be ever mindful of what they can evoke in a reader with a lived experience of our metaphors.

author amok said...

Thank you for recommending these service organizations, Ruth. I'm thinking of you. We overuse the word "devastating." It is heartbreaking that Haiti is experiencing the true meaning of that word once again.

Bridget Magee said...

Sending you and the people of Haiti healing vibes...and a donation. Thanks for your poem and the powerful reminder of the impact that words have on making sense of the world and ultimately healing. Hugs to you, my friend. :)

Carol Varsalona said...

Ruth, it is so good to hear from you. I pray that you and your family remain safe. Thank you for the statistics. They are grim and many people are worried. In fact, the new community where I live is collecting money for Haiti. The appeal appeared in our weekly news blast on Friday. Today is Mission Sunday at Catholic churches. I thought Haiti would be mentioned but the bishop chose to focus on Cameroon. God be with you.

Michelle Kogan said...

Thanks for your powerful poem Ruth, that unfortunately rings true today with this latest Earthquake-political upheaval–and pandemic–all takes my breath away. Thanks also for your list of places to donate, and thanks for being your caring self and sharing all be well and safe, xo.

KatApel - said...

Oh my, Ruth. I hadn't realised. I'm sorry to hear of this. Your poem is so powerful. Your heavy heart... it's in your blog post. Hugs and prayers. Thank-you for the list.