The Earthquake She Slept Through
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?
Copyright © 2012 by Mary Jo Bang. Used with permission of the author.
Mary Jo Bang
Mary Jo Bang was born on October 22, 1946, in Waynesville, Missouri, and grew up in Ferguson, which is now a suburb of St. Louis. She received a BA and an MA in sociology from Northwestern University, a BA in photography from the Polytechnic of Central London, and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University.
Bang is the author of several books of poems, including A Doll for Throwing (Graywolf Press, 2017), a translation of Dante’s Inferno with illustrations by Henrik Drescher (Graywolf Press, 2012), and Elegy (Graywolf Press, 2007), which won the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry and was a 2008 New York Times Notable Book. Her books Louise in Love (Grove Press, 2001) and Elegy both received the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award for a manuscript-in-progress. Her first book, Apology for Want (Middlebury College, 1997), was chosen by Edward Hirsch for the 1996 Bakeless Prize. Her translation of Purgatorio is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2021.
About her collection Elegy, which traces the aftermath of her son’s death, Wayne Koestenbaum writes: “Mary Jo Bang’s remarkable elegies recall the late work of Ingeborg Bachmann—a febrile, recursive lyricism. Like Nietzsche or Plath, Bang flouts naysayers; luridly alive, she drives deep into aporia, her new, sad country. Her stanzas, sometimes spilling, sometimes severe, perform an uncanny death-song, recklessly extended—nearly to the breaking point.”
Bang’s work has been chosen three times for inclusion in the Best American Poetry series. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including a “Discovery”/The Nation award, a Pushcart Prize, a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, and a Hodder Award from Princeton University.
Bang was the poetry coeditor of the Boston Review from 1995 to 2005 and the director of the creative writing program at Washington University from 2003 to 2006. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri.
A Doll for Throwing (Graywolf Press, 2017)
The Last Two Seconds (Graywolf Press, 2015)
Inferno by Dante Allegheri; translation (Graywolf Press, 2012)
The Bride of E: Poems (Graywolf Press, 2009)
Elegy (Graywolf Press, 2007)
The Eye Like a Strange Balloon (Grove Press, 2004)
The Downstream Extremity of the Isle of the Swans (University of Georgia Press, 2001)
Louise in Love (Grove Press, 2001)
Apology for Want (Middlebury College, 1997)
Date Published: 2012-09-10
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/earthquake-she-slept-through