North Vancouver, January, 2005
Even the planners warned them not to build there,
the slope too steep, erosion a persistent risk,
but they sank foundations deep into that chesterfield
of moss and hoped for the best. Now, in a thunder
of mud ripping up roots and snapping trees
like bits of trellis, reporters orbit, counting
the missing and the dead while residents bend
to waiting microphones and search for the street
beneath the sludge, their faces bleached to marble.
What do you bring if forced from home at 3 a.m.?
The baby in bed beside you. Your cat, some cash,
your rainproof coat—whatever you can grab,
whatever you can hold—and you feel lucky
to have it, lucky to be alive, so you lean
against your loved ones, finger their wrists to find
the pulse—unmindful of tomorrow’s pain
you blink back tears of gratitude. Later,
wading through the wreckage, bruising
your boots on broken timbers, crumbled drywall,
you plot escape, forswear views and vegetation
for the vision of an arid square, an alleyway,
bodega in the full glare of the sun. Meanwhile,
seismologists scour the cliff, reckon
a safe date for your return, while the gossip
of water goes on and on.
Copyright © Susan Olding. Originally published in The Malahat Review (199, Summer 2017).
Susan Olding is the author of Pathologies: A Life in Essays. Her poetry has appeared in CV2, Event, The Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, and several anthologies, including In Fine Form, 2nd Edition. Her second book is forthcoming in 2021.