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Seismic Activity


For months afterward, I’d say at least a year and a half after the Loma Prieta earthquake, people would tell each other stories about where they were, who they were with and what they saw during those fifteen seconds – cascading file cabinets, jumping desks, electrical black-outs, dancing trees, roiling asphalt, raining glass, symphonies of car alarms sounding off, ricocheting off of buildings.

For eighteen months, people were interested in each other’s stories.

I wrote to Andrei Codrescu just after Katrina. He was in mourning over his city. I wanted to empathize with him, with his feeling of loss, to tell him I had witnessed and survived Hurricane Camille in 1969 in Mobile, Alabama, the Blizzard of ’77 in Buffalo, New York, and the Loma Prieta earthquake and the Oakland firestorm more recently, where I am in Berkeley right now.

But I knew that this personal list of natural disasters didn’t sound comforting, maybe even irritating, and those particular disasters hadn’t wrecked the fragile ecosystem of a place as achingly alive and exquisite with lush decay as New Orleans.

So I wrote something beautiful and mushy about New Orleans which he seemed to like. I think he did. At least it passed without an awkward silence following.

Whenever I drive out to Point Reyes, I think about that dry fragment of the Pacific Plate which is scraping against the North American plate, heading north to join in sexual union with Alaska, several millennia and quite a few cataclysmic earthquakes from now.

I don’t care how many people tell me otherwise, I can use a sexual metaphor to describe plate tectonics if I want to. I can be as stubborn as a rock.

Adele and I were sitting on a shady bench on a warm day next to the water with a view out over the bay. We had walked all over the marina looking for a bench in the shade so I wouldn’t get sunburned and Adele could lean back against something. Finally two guys without a full head of teeth between the two of them, gallantly moved their pizza box and empty bottles in brown bags so we could sit down.

They were very polite winos.

Adele said to me, “Would you like me to read some Bukowski?”

I said, “Sure.”

She read 2 or 3 kick-ass narratives. Bukowski must have had a great sex life in the seventies, I think to myself.

As I’m listening to the poems, I heard some pops above my head. I didn’t know squirrels could be that noisy, I also think.

Adele was getting to the part of the poem where Bukowski’s girlfriend was hiding in a closet with bald guys and I’m going to find out if this is going to get seriously kinky or what, when all at once the popping gets really loud, you-can’t-ignore-it-anymore loud.
Just as I wanted to interrupt to say something, all at once the large branch over our heads came down, landing right between us.

And now I think, Holy shit! Are we having an earthquake? But that was only for a split second, then I realized the world as we know it has not ruptured. we are just sitting under a tree, that’s it.

There were a few twigs sticking in Adele’s hair, but otherwise, she was okay. She looked okay. I was okay too.

The guys with only a few teeth took off, but they took their trash with them. They were very polite winos.

I looked at the tree, but it was not split, at least no split was visible. A large limb the girth of my thigh had given up suddenly, bent to the ground, as if life had become too futile.

Adele said, “Too much Bukowski, probably.” Which was what I was thinking too.
We looked at each other and laughed.

“Maybe we should have read some Andrei Codrescu,” I said.

She laughed again, although I’m not sure why.

I didn’t mean anything by that.

Laura Riggs is an architect and writer who lives in Berkeley, California. Her writing has appeared, or will soon, in print publications and web journals such as Alimentum, AlterNet, BluePrintReview, CleanSheets, The East Bay Express, Exquisite Corpse, Rivets, The SoMa Literary Review, Verbicide and Waccamaw Journal. Ms. Riggs is the road grunt, curator, creative director and CEO of Speckled Egg Studios which designs and publishes poetry broadsheets and produces literary readings in the San Francisco Bay Area.