The Earthquake She Slept Through

- 1946-

                She slept through the earthquake in Spain.
The day after was full of dead things. Well, not full but a few.
Coming in the front door, she felt the crunch of a carapace

under her foot. In the bathroom, a large cockroach
rested on its back at the edge of the marble surround; the dead
antennae announced the future by pointing to the silver eye

that would later gulp the water she washed her face with.
Who wouldn't have wished for the quick return
of last night's sleep? The idea, she knew, was to remain awake

and while walking through the day's gray fog, trick the vaporous
into acting like something concrete: a wisp of cigarette smoke,
for instance, could become a one-inch Lego building

seen in the window of a bus blocking the street.
People sometimes think of themselves as a picture that matches
an invented longing: a toy forest, a defaced cricket, the more

or less precious lotus. The night before the quake, she took a train
to see a comic opera with an unlikely plot. She noticed a man
in a tan coat and necktie who looked a lot like Kafka.

The day after, she called a friend to complain about the bugs.
From a distant city—his voice low and slightly plaintive—he said,
Aren't you well? Is there anything you want?

More by Mary Jo Bang

Catastrophe Theory III

Now we sit and play with a tiny toy
elephant that travels a taut string.
Now we are used and use in turn
each other. Our hats unravel
and that in itself is tragic.
To be lost. To have lost. Verbs

like veritable engines pulling the train
of thought forward. The hat is over-
turned and out comes a rabbit. Out comes a man
with a monocle. Out comes a Kaiser.
Yikes, it's history, that ceiling
comprised of recessed squares, each leg a lifeline,

each lie a wife's leg. A pulled velvet cord
rings a bell and everyone comes running
to watch while a year plummets
into the countdown of an open mouth. A loop of razor wire
closes around the circumference of a shaken globe
of snow. Yellowed newsprint with its watery text,

a latticework of shadow thrown
onto the clear screen of the prison wall.
From a mere idea comes the twine
that gives totality its name. What is a theory
but a tentacle reaching for a wafer of reason.
The inevitable gap tragic. Sure, tragic.

Catastrophe Theory II

The foot goes forward, yes.
Yet there are roots. And a giant orb
which focuses its cyclopic eye
on a moiré morning.
When the microcosm is dry—it's earth;
wet—it's water.

Water, reeds, electric eel: one possibility.
Sun, reeds, dust mote and mite: another.
Whatever the elements
(it's urban/it's pastoral,
it's empty/it's open), the theory says
it could always be worse.

Until it is. Then theory fails,
leaving a tracer mark.
From blood you come to blood
you go. Sudden things happen
inside a frame. A flame is
lit. Look

at those pathetic wiggly squiggles.
Inferno or garden?
An immeasurable distance
sizzles between them.
Watching it all. But taking so little in.
Just what will fit on the flat

of a glass lens. The ticker is hopeful.
Pathetic fallacy.
Look at the numbers move.
The mystery of ticks.
One per second, sixty per Mickey.
Four becomes ten, one in six

bombs falls in a bushel, a basket,
a two o'clock casket. Do you wish to stay
connected? The seen blurs
into the just heard. A bird outside the wide
open window. The warm day
of March. It changes. It has

all changed. The world
as a distracting disaster.
MY, what little SENSE you make, said the wolf
to Mary Jo. The theory rests
on a tipping point.
The clock steps in a direction.

The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity

We were going toward nothing
all along. Honing the acoustics,
heralding the instant
shifts, horizontal to vertical, particle

to plexus, morning to late,
lunch to later yet, instant to over. Done
to overdone. And all against
a pet-shop cacophony, the roof withstanding

its heavy snow load. So, winter. And still,
ambition to otherwise and a forest of wishes.
Meager the music floating over. The car
in the driveway. In the P-lot, or curbside.

A building overlooking an estuary,
inspired by a lighthouse.
Always asking. Has this this been built?
Or is it all process?

Molecular coherence, a dramatic canopy,
cafeteria din, audacious design. Or humble.
Saying, We ask only to be compared to the ant-
erior cruciate ligament. So simple. So elegant.

Animated detail, data from digital.
But of course there is also longstanding evil.
The spider speaking
to the fly, Come in, come in.

Overcoming timidity. Overlooking
consequence. Finally ending
with the future. Take comfort.
You were going nowhere. You were not alone.

You were one
of a body curled on a beach. Near sleep
on a balcony. The negative night
in a small town or part of an urban abstraction.

Looking up
at the billboard hummingbird,
its enormous beak. There's a song that goes. . .
And then the curtain drops.

Related Poems

Single Vision & Newton's Sleep

Lick the lights. Everyone 
says that here. Sometimes 
they'll call a spade a shovel, 
hollowing half a hole, 
which is all I have to sleep inside.


There's one


arboretum running 
underground from near here 
to Verisimilitude City. 
I measure the macrocosm 
with miles of mint string. Flossing


the dunning


skins from the incisors of the air. 
The apples in our demi-dreams 
drag themselves from the dirt 
and into the indigo atmosphere. 
Prime Mover, sleep. In the shade


ensnared.