Tuesday, April 18, 2006

anniversary of the earthquake


Based on Jack London's testimony for "Collier's"

Witnesses say just a shade. Witnesses say
the fire made its own draft. The tower
swayed. Red the clouds, and by morning,
half the heart of the city was gone. Witnesses
say the heated air made an enormous rising.
Wind poured from every side. Witnesses
say, where was it coming from, the wind?
Witnesses say we are talking more about
the fire than the quake here, but the quake
made the fire and the fire made day and night,
a calm continuance. The fire built its own
chimney in the sky. Remains only the fringe
of dwellings. If you were on the outskirts,
you survived. Witnesses say afterward,
downed walls, jumbled brick: dynamite
was lavish. Witnesses say we crumbled
ourselves the proudest structures. How else
to stop the blaze? Witnesses say we saved
the Mint; everything else around it ground,
a rooted field. Wednesday night, the whole
city crashed into ruin, a quiet wave. Witnesses
saw only one woman weeping. Everyone
was gone or going. Baby buggies, toy wagons,
go-carts, trucks dragging; now and again
lightened up, flinging clothes. Witnesses say
there was no water. Dynamite was giving out.
A rain of ash was falling, bitter, Kearny Street
deserted, a wall of flames on each side. Two
cavalrymen sat on their horses and watched.
Witnesses say the devastated Palace. Witnesses
say the gutted Grand. The shattered dome
of city hall. On Mission Street: a dozen
steers, milk cans scattered. Witnesses
paused in their houses. Witnesses passed out
on the stairs. Witnesses waited for free meals
and directions, and then stopped waiting,
and then started beating the fires
with wet blankets and rugs till they bled out.
On Union, thousands gone to sleep on the grass.