Earthquake Drill

Yesterday morning you woke up and asked me if it was raining

I had stepped inside thirty seconds before

Bare feet slick with overnight summer shower

It wasn’t raining.

But it had.

 

Your sleepy eyes scanned over to the sliding glass door

“But everything is all wet.”

The grass was slick

And the patio stained dark

Just because everything is wet

Doesn’t mean that it’s still raining

Sometimes it means the storm has passed

And sometimes

We’ll wake up on mornings

When everything is wet

And it’ll be hard to tell

If it’s still raining

 

I grew up with the Los Angeles skyline

On my western horizon

Where there was little grass

And even less rain

 

Where my high school football field was AstroTurf

And taught me that it’s possible

To pass yourself off as

Perfectly watered grass

When you were really just made of ground up tires

Shredded remains of what got you here

 

It was also where

Three times per year

We learned to duck and cover

Because tectonic plates were moving

And we had earthquake drills to finish

 

I came of age with my

Hand over my neck

Head under my desk

Perfecting how to shelter myself

From the things that never came

 

Sometimes I forget that most people I now call friend

And now call love

Didn’t grow up in California

Don’t know how scary

Moving ground can be

So I still make habit of sheltering them

From my fault lines

 

We tend to want to measure

All the ways that we break

 

And I’m lucky those friends

And that love

Don’t know the difference

Between a 1.7

And a 7.1

On the Richter scale

 

Because if they can’t measure

Where I break

I can tell them it’s a 1.7

When it’s really a 7.1

I can protect them from the magnitude

And say that this is just the ground shifting

It’s not breaking

It’s not crumbling

I’m not creating all of this dust

Just for the fun of it

 

During those earthquake drills

They teach us that door frames

Are often the only structures left standing

After the big one hits

 

That safety

Is in standing under the frame

And not walking through it

That the things we build

To make leaving easier

Are really the things

That will keep us here

 

That we can be our most protected

When we are most vulnerable

Knowing that at any second

Those houses we build

May tumble down

But that what remains

Leans on our choice to stand beneath

The very thing

That tells us it’s okay to go

 

Sometimes the only thing that can protect us

Is knowing the door is there

The thinnest line

Between walking out

And coming home

 

I’m writing these lines

On the envelope

You hid in the glove box

For my first day of work

It is my third day of work

And I am writing while driving up the highway

Where I cross three rivers and pass two ports

 

I know that sweat and tears are made of the same stuff

That bring boats to shore

I know that salted water

Raises its boiling point

That when the days come

Where there are flames beneath our feet

We won’t boil over

If we fill these pots with that stuff

 

I know that potholes expand when they fill with water and freeze

That our cracks grow bigger

When we are cold

 

Do you have any idea how many times I’ve been told

That paving over my fractures

Will make for a smoother road

For everyone else?

 

I want potholes.

I want weeds to breach the breaks in my path

So that I know

What’s underneath everything these drills prepared me for

Is still living

 

I want split concrete

Where the tiger lillies bloom

I want buckled roots

And a hilly tread

I want the terrifying split second between tripping

And falling

And I want us to be able to catch ourselves

I want us to be able to catch each other.

 

I wish we would teach children

That sometimes roads less traveled

Will be smooth and

Your heart can’t catch in your throat

On that road

Your knees won’t buckle

The way the concrete does

And I want our road traveled

 

At the end of this journey

I don’t want them to say
Look at what an easy ride this was

But look at all of the life that traveled on it

Look at how the places where the concrete breaks

Sketches survival into its face

Lifelines.

 

I pass the first port

And I reach down into the space between the seats

To feel for something to write with

Something that feels like

It can get this message across

 

Because when I began taping up boxes to leave Chicago

I stopped carrying pens in my pockets

Because moving means changing into different clothes

And t-shirts don’t have breast pockets

The way my button-downs do

 

I never gave myself the chance

To write a poem on whatever I could find

I had forgotten that boxes

And envelopes

Are made of the same stuff

That my notebooks are

 

Every morning before I go to work

I slide the top button of my shirt

Through the uppermost buttonhole

Because I wear my collared shirts

The way I wear my vulnerability

 

Easily undone

By the right hands

Or someone who knows how

To work a needle and thread

And can teach me how to sew

Can tell me these buttons are an easy mend

 

I’ll admit that

I still have a tendency to button up

But there’s a pen in my pocket

That wasn’t there last month

 

So next time

 

I won’t need to rummage around

For something

That only feels like communication

While my eyes are fixed on the road

And the ground is moving beneath my feet

 

Maybe this time I’ll know

That when I can feel the miles melting into all that is now

Behind me

I’ll know it isn’t an earthquake

I’ll know that moving earth

And shifting plates

And all of the places I break

 

I’ll know that finding someone who

Doesn’t know what a Richter scale is and

Refuses to measure the way my fault lines

Constantly remind us of the door

 

Must mean

That I’m finally

 

Getting somewhere.

 

Image courtesy of lonewolfpics, Flickr Creative Commons

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