When Alice Shares An Article About Earthquakes Along the New Madrid Fault
I click the link, because that’s what you do when a headline screams of a mega-earthquake near where you live.
The story is brief. We are overdue. No quake’s struck here in over 200 years. When one strikes, as many as seven states around us could feel the shaking.
Fuck you, Alice, I think. I close the tab.
I search for that video of the shaggy dog in spandex running down the hall, the cat on the Roomba, the latest diversion, any diversion. But those only last so long. After a while, I’m staring at a map of New Madrid. I trace my finger along the fault. It’s hammer-shaped, its steely head stretching from Tennessee to Missouri, its handle burrowing into the flat of Arkansas. I imagine the first tentative staccato taps, then the crack as the head of the hammer strikes the ground and shatters it.
Underneath the map is a caption--the last major quake along the New Madrid was on February 7, 1812—and then fragments of story, like pieces of the broken ground scattered down the page. A man named John wrote of the Mississippi not like a river in a storm but as the storm itself, of the noise as the clamor and roar of creation day. A woman named Eliza wrote of the rush of the river running backwards and the air filling with a sulphurous keening. The thin candle of the moon snuffed to dark, she wrote. The screams of the animals were from hell itself.
Footsteps in the hallway. Your small frame appears in the door. Three steps more, and you are beside me, then in my lap. Your hands are clouds against the mountains of my cheeks. Your arms, the fog along the valley of my neck. I close my browser and hug you, press my face into your sweet, sweaty hair.
I love you, I say. You don’t answer. You never do. You just wrap your arms around me tighter. It is, in a way, its own answer.
John and Eliza, the warmth of your arms—they loosen the other fractured things, the things that I’ve tried to put back together but still cannot. That other February 7 is unearthed in pieces, like land broken along the fault: your grandfather, walking the dog in a halo of fog. He bends over to retrieve something from the ground. For a moment, he and the car are hidden from each other behind a row of shrubs. They meet, two tectonic plates that stick, then slip past one another.
Clamor and roar.
A sulphurous keening.
The moon, snuffing to dark.
Not every February 7 brings disaster. But each one brings the waiting for it, and this is the terrible way I grieve. Here I am, already in pieces, and I keep reading the stories about the other fragmented things. Here I have you, safe in my arms, and instead of marveling at all the ways that you’ve learned to make do, instead I’m waiting for the coming of the next bad thing.
I close my eyes. I want to make the waiting purposeful: those words I love you will come from your lips, someday, someday. I imagine it: your lips, tectonic plates that drag and drift and buckle the continents. The sinistral movement of your mouth. The plume of mantle. Someday, I will bear witness to the rise of the mountain of language, the oceanic ridge of the word. Those imaginings, your silence—they’re a reminder that you are a body in the midst of a marvelous transformation.
I cradle you until your breathing softens and you fall asleep. Then I open my browser again, and I find the story about New Madrid that my mother told me as a child.
When the 1812 earthquake made the river run backwards, she said, the land subsided and the water swelled to form an area now known as Reelfoot Lake. It’s still there. Eagles circle the water the way water circles a drain. Cypress trees stretch into the sky.
A year and a half after your grandfather’s death, you were born. Your father and I held one another in the delivery room. The ground shook. The river flowed backward. The animals screamed. There was a sulphurous keening and a terrible dark. And then the land subsided, and the water swelled, and we heard your cry. The landscape transformed before us. We watched the cypresses root deeper, the eagles wing their way to their young. We watched the water pool in the lavender light. We knew that somewhere in the deep, there were glittering things.
I kiss you, and I remember the end to my mother’s story: Out of disaster, something new.
Megan Pillow Davis is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fiction and is currently a doctoral candidate in the University of Kentucky’s English Department. Her work has appeared recently in Electric Literature, SmokeLong Quarterly, Mutha Magazine, Memoir Mixtapes, and Coffin Bell Journal and is forthcoming in Collective Unrest and Jellyfish Review. She has received fellowships from Pen Parentis and the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing and a residency from the Ragdale Foundation. She is currently writing her dissertation and a novel. You can find her on Twitter at @megpillow.