Tuesday Poem: Landlines – my poem in response to the Christchurch earthquake


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 I didn’t think that I could do justice to the subject. Then I decided to write a poem about my reaction in the aftermath of the earthquake, rather than the earthquake itself.

I was concerned about plenty of people in addition to my Dad and stepmother, including the Christchurch-based Tuesday poets, but including those concerns would have made for a rather unfocused poem.

You can read all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog.