Kobe Quake Notes

Robert Brady


[O]n a winter dawn the world shrugs
screams begin from below everywhere
and reality does not conform
to earthquake emergency plans
houses are blended
elevated highways topple
truckdrivers suddenly
drive vertically sideways
vehicles beneath flatten like tinplate
grandmothers trapped immobile
in the wreckage of their houses
wait for the fire
fireseeds falling everywhere
for hours before firemen aim hoses
at towers of flame
no water
blue plastic bucket brigade
brings thimblefuls to the inferno
while along the twisted railway line
only a few stations away
in Osaka people buy six-month
commuter passes amazing
half the people in the office
aren’t here because
the roads are gone
the railways are gone
their houses are gone
or they themselves are gone
but it’s business as usual elsewhere
3000 people dead so far just over there
below those mountains
air throbs with tv copters
circling smoke of flesh and home
people throng on school playgrounds
walled with smoke
at Nakatsu station strong young men
big tanks of water on their backs
heading for Kobe
water is the first thing
the victims mention then food
300,000 homeless crowded in gyms
or on the streets in cardboard boxes
the rich in food lines with the poor
people walking the no-more streets
with buckets in their hands
others wheeling makeshift carts
bearing the dead somewhere
hanging out of the rescuers’ blanket
grandmother’s lifeless whitesocked feet
woman kneeling in the zero night
with flashlight
tear-streaked face shouting
mama papa over and over
into the silent wreckage
rescued young husband
rescued young wife
embrace crylaughing to be alive
two neighbors meeting by chance
break into tears
buildings toppled across streets
cars crushed beneath splintered bedrooms
hospitals with middle floor sandwiched
people afraid of indoors
crazy-tilted houses crack and shudder
people afraid of outdoors
streets rained with glass girders masonry
rescuers peer into a gap
between beams and slabs
at part of a woman’s bare back
no movement but thickening smoke
they move on to look
for the living
old man tells of 15 hours trapped immobile
waiting for death not a quaver in his voice
bloody-faced baby peaceful
at its mother’s breast
100-year-old woman
under quilts in the gym
says she’s lived too long
father going into a crushed house
at fire’s edge finds his little daughter
alive carries her to his wife what joy
in that crackling devastation
people around bonfires in the open
while their city burns
long slow lines to the convenience store
to buy water tea soda any liquid any food
woman uncovers a little pot of seaweed soup
with a laugh says
it’s for twenty people
people wearing towels
people wearing blankets
people wearing what they fled in
woman kneels wailing hands clasped
before her flaming neighborhood
begging it to stop
bleeding old man sobs into the telephone
young man in motorcycle helmet
shuffling numb through snapshots
of his family all dead
has nowhere to go
traffic one lane for tens of kilometers
help can’t get there,
refugees on the roads from Kobe
to everywhere
where its business as usual
a twelve-hour walk away
commuters wait for trains
file off to the office
sit down at desks
while for someone
pinned in the wreckage
with the 800th aftershock
the upper floors crunch closer
it’s not business as usual but what can you do
you’d only get in the way
but Kobe people aren’t defeated
flames all around they start digging
old market streets black ash now
woman trapped with her mother
and their cat
speaks to her rescuers
through a tiny gap in the wreckage
two women by rubble roadside
hear a cat in the ruins
rescue it fur singed
it calls looking around wild
for what it used to know
roads collapsed
railway station now
only two meters high
trains twisted everything twisted
burned ash smoke shattered glass
crushed rooftiles bones lives
reporters pristine in the chaos
ask dumb questions
microphones toward bloody faces
faces that have seen the power
seen it take a whole city
and shake it like a pan of popcorn
mountains included
and words don’t work
meanwhile business as usual
I look into the eyes of commuting faces
where are the 3000 dead
people worry about getting to work
while people dip buckets
into school swimming pool
to flush toilets
no water no gas no electricity
but in all this no theft
no burgling of everywhere-broken shops
just a young man and his wife with child
now in Osaka embarrassed
that they stole two bicycles
and pedaled all night
to get to their future

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Robert Brady

Author's Bio

Robert is KJ’s Rambler-at-large


Image of a monk amidst earthquake ruins by David Culton www.playoflight.com