Earthquake Country

You built your house on a on a fault line
You ignored all wisdom
You forgot that this was earthquake country

When it hits
It breaks the dishes
It wakes you from a sound sleep
It puts cracks up and down every wall


You inspect the foundation
Run your hands along the damage
You ask
Can I live with these cracked walls?
You think you could

You’re sure if you really try

You could probably even forget

What earthquakes are all together

At least until the next one hits

Down a long, dusty, unused hallway

You find a locked door

You search your ring for the right key

The room is long and irregularly shaped

As if you built it with no plan at all
And it’s dusty

Even dustier than the hallway
There are square columnar marks on every wall
And boxes
So many boxes

They lie jumbled
When the earthquake hit
The teeters must have tottered

and fallen.

You wade in
Already exhausted
And tally the cost
The time

You could stuff it all back into the boxes
Build towers to the ceiling
Lock the door again
Let the bad memories fade.

You could toss the boxes
If you haven’t looked in a box in
A year
Ten years
You can’t possibly need it’s contents
At least that’s what they say

You could get new boxes made of
slick, clear, plastic
You could fill them up
And stack them neatly
And Pretend this room doesn’t exist

You think you may have done that once before

Or twice

Or seventeen thousand times


That is a stupid plan

You take it one box at a time
Recycle the old mail
Magazines from 1998 with pop stars on their covers
Has beens
The dead

The tiny pot you threw in tenth grade
Its perfect foot
The melted blue glass in the bottom
The zodiac signs sgraffitoed in blue slip around the side

You find
A sheet of crinkled notebook paper
A column of loopy cursive

Penned in pink pearlescent ink

There is a sound
Standing in the door is your partner
Is it that late already?
You thought you’d have more time
To hide this

You try to explain about the earthquake
The mess

The work ahead of you

But he’d be right to say

You built this house
You knew the risks
It’s your job to take care of the fallout

You fold the paper in half

Your shoulders droop
Under the weight of unspoken words

Do you need help, he asks.
And words rise to the surface
Go away
Leave me alone
Don’t look at me
Please don’t look at the mess I’ve made

You almost say them
Almost drive him away
Almost shut the door
Turn the key
Toil on alone

But you look in his eyes
Really look
They crinkle behind his glasses
Let me help you, he says.

And you want to say yes
but the words won’t come

So instead, you unfold the paper
And read him a poem you wrote
The week you fell in love with him

He nods
Takes a box and begins to sort things into piles
He reminds you that this isn’t just your house
That these aren’t just your boxes
That you can go through them together

If you want to.

You take down another box and find:
An angry letter that hurt you.
A spindled picture of fourteen-year-old you.
You look at her
She’s wearing your face
Grinning like a fool

She has no clue that someday
She will have a room like this
Stuffed to the ceiling with regret

You find
Ultrasound pics dated March 2007.
Sobs erupt
As you allow yourself to remember
And then he’s there
Holding you
Prying open your hand
Smoothing out the long sheet of thermal paper

And you remember everything
How your son looked on the ultrasound
How he looked in your arms still and unmoving
You remember how you hid these
How you folded down the lid
And placed it in another box
And another

Until it was buried deep
In a Russian nesting doll full of secrets
And shame.

And you say his name
And you say you love him
And you cry together
Standing knee deep in the mess

You are shaking
A smaller earthquake rattles your chest
Splits you apart
Reminds you that you have a fault line, too

When you are done crying out
And shouting
When the tears have dried
You carefully go through each box

Pitch the garbage
Give away the pieces of yourselves you have no use for
Box up the precious artifacts of your lives
And apart

When you are done
You sweep the floor
Pull back the dusty curtains
And throw open the windows

You chuck the key into the grass
For the crows to find and take
And gift to someone who needs to be unlocked

There are still cracks in your walls
inside and out

You have a choice
It seems you always have

You can buy a bucket of spackle
And fill in the cracks


You can get his and hers sledgehammers
And knock it the fuck down.

Raze the walls

Create open space



You remember how you built this house together now
All the arguments
His insistence that this was a bad idea
That this was earthquake country

You remember thinking about how nice the view was
You remember thinking that earthquakes weren’t really
All that big of a deal
You remember the day he stopped talking
You remember seeing the worry in his eyes
And closing yours

That was then

Now your eyes are open
The room is clean
In each of your arms
Is a box of beautiful debris

Should we close the door, he asks
And you shake your head

Leave it open
Leave it open
Leave it open


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