Tuesday Poem: Landlines (a re-post from February 2011)

Note: This is a poem I wrote in response to the Christchurch earthquake of February 22, 2011. I thought it was appropriate to re-post it today.


It began with a tremor in the wires,
a voiceless howl of anguish.
Within minutes, the waiting world
has heard the worst — but there’s no news of you.
Amanda Palmer, an Olympic rower, former neighbours
are online. But you depend on landlines,
and the lines are down.

Were you at home when it struck? Were you
trapped on a fatal cross-town bus,
walking a hill track bombarded by boulders? Were you
unlucky under verandahs? I strategise
with relatives I barely know, plead on Twitter
for tiny clues, ask Google for your name.
I lift, and set down, and lift the phone.

At last we hear you’re safe at home,
barely touched, offering neighbours shelter.
My voice explodes with joy and messages.
I’m gabbling. I slow down. The bigger picture
presses in: so terrible, a city centre
crumbled into bone. I lift the phone.
It rings. You speak. I know, at last, I’m not alone.

Credit note: “Landlines” was first published as the Thursday Poem in the Dominion Post newspaper in Wellington on 3 March 2011.

Tim says: When the Dominion Post asked me to write a poem about the Christchurch earthquake of 22 February, I was on the verge of saying “no”, because as a non-Christchurch person, I didn’t think that I could do justice to the subject. Then I decided I could write a poem about my reaction in the aftermath of the earthquake, and the search for information on what had happened to my father and stepmother, who were living in a Christchurch retirement village at the time of the quake.

You can read all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog – the hub poem is in the centre of the page, and the week’s other poems are linked from the right of the page. Several other Tuesday poems this week, some by Christchurch poets, address the quake and its aftermath.

10 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem: Landlines (a re-post from February 2011)

  1. This is the first time I've read this poem Tim; the restraint makes it stronger. When I have read other poems about natural disasters (notably bush-fires) the more compelling ones are those that do not attempt to deal directly with the scale of the event, but approach it filtered through smaller personal issues. 'Side-on', as it were.

  2. Thank you, Penelope, Elizabeth and Kathleen! I was asked to write the poem for the DomPost and given four days to do it, and it was about half-way through the fourth of those days that I figured out a way to do it that wouldn't feel false.On an unrelated note, I must say that I have been plunged into an existential crisis by the words \”Please prove you're not a robot\” immediately below this comment box. I genuinely feel quite unsettled by this – maybe proof I am a robot?

  3. Makes my scalp shiver – all the fear and love in there – and it's coming out again today – the 22nd – terribly affecting. Thanks for reposting this Tim.

  4. Thanks for thinking of us, Tim. And I know your own family has felt the flow on consequences of the earthquake in a very deep and personal way.

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