Not a new fault, just a buried one,
the web site says. A fracture concealed for ten
thousand years. A no fault divorce, her email
says, after forty-five. Both broadcasts unreal,
pixels on a laptop screen. The bubbles
on my muddy latte keep breaking inaudibly.
Who could see under all that sediment?
–Too much geology, it’s indecent,
but cataclysms make all metaphors
go seismic. Plate subduction: there’s a force
you can measure, if not predict. My father,
eighty-five, in congestive heart failure,
conducting affairs with women my age.
Structural losses are yet to be gauged.
The gauge itself is lost. The pain mislaid
in relocation, the contents of my suitcase
confiscated. Awarded the prestigious
travel grant, I land in this office
with a clump of tissues and a stained mug. Fresh
from Antarctic ice fields, southerlies rush
through campus, pushing my tower around,
but the cursor just blinks. The walls act bland.
The drop-ceiling’s a cloudbank. I used to be
the gale force winds no one could pacify.
Back then, with a panicky gust, I would pound
upstairs at the garage door’s nightly grind.
He unburdened himself of keys and coins, began
to drink and fume. I couldn’t escape, but I ran.
The vapor can’t escape, so water runs
down the coolest plane—skylight glass—and drums
on the kitchen table. It’s from the brine I boil
for pasta. It’s from the shower: what doesn’t swirl
through the grate rises and lingers, persuasive, warm.
It’s from bodies sweating and the swarm
of tiny beads released with words. No need
for the old man to gloss the physics. Perceive
this morning’s puddle, fish out debris, wipe
the wood with a dishtowel, open a pane to the dry
cold air. Don’t put your papers there unless
you like them drowned. State of readiness.
I don’t call him and he hasn’t written. Matter
changes phase. Maybe aches; knowing’s better.
Maybe she sensed a change before she snooped.
Stumbling, he’d left on his desk a withdrawal slip
for twenty thousand. Learning the rest required
archaeology. My mother visited the site
and came back choking on dust. My sister filtered
his office midden for traces and artifacts,
check stubs from covert accounts, pamphlets on sex
after prostate cancer. My brother disinterred
email annals, on God and the next tryst,
between the pious mistress and our lying atheist
father. Nine thousand miles from the dig, I
can only watch a screen. Reporters stand by;
rescue teams show passionate industry.
Then the shift from rescue to recovery.
The rescue teams have flown to Japan, and missile
strikes in Libya give cover to the rebels.
Just blocks from Parliament, Robert Sullivan
reads poems for Māori soldiers in the Italian
campaign, and more on foreshore-seabed rights—
who owns Aotearoa’s littoral zones. Despite
how I go on, divorce isn’t disaster.
You can’t rate my family upset on the Richter
scale. Not metaphor, but metonymy,
the professor says, fixing the slippery
word on the board. Not erasure but a close
thing. I am far from what one might call home,
someone with a faultless sense of self.
The jutting peaks, the continental shelf.
Each peak a wall. Each road a narrow shelf,
no rail, no shoulder, above a steep green gulf.
New Zealand is all edges. That’s the crux,
the scenery’s drama: long looks down, sharp rocks
and breakers. Damp cold and the mad jangling
of tui in the punga. Barefoot men tramping
through dairies, shopping for roti, never mind
those starry glass-shards in the moss outside.
It’s good to have stepped away from safety, even
if your family cracks behind you the second
you breach the equator. Here, you have to be braver.
Larking teenagers, jumping into the harbor
from a splintery plank into mystery. White-haired
women galloping down the rain-slick stairs.
My mother, unsupported, limps down each stair,
one knee’s cartilage replaced, other
joints inflamed. She’s hidden a lot of pain.
The world is moving under her again.
Five decades since she lifted one foot and felt
Earth turn from low-roofed England to the hot
steel dazzle of summer in New York. Release.
She knew that deep inside the rock, stress
would build again—you never stop spinning—but
the slip still shocks. I hate the phrase no fault.
He’s the engineer; he knew the code
was bad; he cheated. He was more free yet chose
secrets. I choose to share data as if
a visible fault were somehow almost safe.
Lesley Wheeler’s poetry collections include The Receptionist and Other Tales, a Tiptree Award Honor Book; Heterotopia, winner of the Barrow Street Poetry Prize; and Heathen. Her poems and essays appear in Prairie Schooner, SubTropics, Poetry, and other magazines. She is the Henry S. Fox Professor of English at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.