Earthquake Afterthought by Philip Burton


Our terrier has shaken herself off.

All the shuddering now is done by us

clasping the duvet, a chair, and each other.

No collapse of roof and walls, so far,

but my all-seeing infant messenger

turns and points. "That wasn't there

that blowhole in the floorboard!"


"Just a knothole," I almost correct her

but don't; asbestos dust fountains out

in a miniature plume. Lovely in its way

till muted clicks transmute to the scream

of a misplaced cliff-ledge chick

whose breakthrough peck inside the shell

has tipped herself and egg into the sea.


We huddle in our feather bags and text

a neighbour ─ carpenter by persuasion ─

an upright man ─ to advise on signs

of the imminent fall of a building. "Bless you"

he says, "witnesses are hard to find."

I hold a firm young hand and we creep

down the creased and jumbled stairs.