Following the Oct. 17, 1989 San Francisco Bay Area earthquake, I started writing in rhyme—the stricter the form the better. That’s because I was scared, scared shitless and on behalf of my friends, neighbors and family, I wanted the world to come to order. “Settle down, world, settle down!” Fear was there big time, fear in all its glory. "Why not make a friend of fear? Why not make fear your ally?" said a friend. The earthquake was what my friend Gary calls "a get me out of here fear." So writing this helped, helped a little... and at the same time we know, don't we, that the 1989 event was a Pretty Big One and that the (really) Big One is yet to come. Anyway, when it comes we'll cope, if that's the word, we'll cope the best way we can. Or maybe we won't cope at all. Maybe we won't have an opportunity to cope. And if and when you are called up to cope, what in fact are you gonna draw on? "You can't do better than you," says Gary. "You can't do better than you." Okay, this is me. A writer's response to the '89 quake.
BLACKBIRDS FLYING BACKWARDS
Before the shaking begins, cats and dogs run away,
and blackbirds fly backwards.
Beware stucco, beware faults; beware highrise, beware freeway.
Beware Fremont, Oakland, Rodgers Creek, Hayward.
Get out your prayer book and start to pray.
The world is going to end. It may happen today.
Duck, cover and hold. Earthquake, earthquake, say the word.
Beware plaster, beware clay. Pack your bags and move away.
Beware landfills, beware malls. Beware cats that run away.
"Here it comes. Step over the sill, get out on the curb.
Get out your Bible and start to pray."
'Save us, Andrew, Buddha, St. John the Divine... '
Beware hot, dry weather and blackbirds
flying backwards. Loma Prieta, San Andreas, El Lay...
A neighbor racing down stairs in her negligee.
Crouch in a stairwell. Don't be scared. Be prepared.
Stash band-aids and Tylenol. Do it now. Don't delay.
San Jose is not okay. Pack your bags and move away.
Beware shake, beware shout. Follow the herd.
Beware stucco, beware faults; beware high rise, beware freeway.
Get out your Bible and start to pray.
Reprinted from Pathways to the Past, Adventures in Santa Cruz County History – History Journal Number 6, 2009. Museum of Art and History @ the McPherson Center. Booksigning at MAH, 3-5 PM, Sat., April 18, 2009.
Causes Robert Sward Supports
Audubon Society, National Geographic, "Green," the Environment, SPCA...