Thursday, March 31, 2011

Flap: the Earthquake Fundraiser

This post will stay at the top of the blog for a few weeks. For the latest update, scroll down.

As a fundraiser for the Canterbury Earthquake Appeal we are selling copies of Flap: the Chookbook 2 - a book of poetry from four talented Canterbury poets: Victoria Broome, Catherine Fitchett, Barbara McCartney and Christina Stachurski.

As Paypal can be a little tricky in New Zealand for overseas payments, we decided that the easiest way to work this would be as follows:
1) E-mail us at poetrychooks at gmail dot com to make sure there are enough copies left.
2) On confirmation of your copy, make a donation to the earthquake appeal -
either the New Zealand government appeal
or the New Zealand Red Cross (be sure to select "2011 earthquake appeal"
3) E-mail us your donation receipt and your name and address details, and we will post your copy.

The minimum donation is $NZ20 (about $US15 at current exchange rates) but of course you may donate as much as you wish.

Various Observations

1) Apparently scientific research shows that novelty and challenge are important factors in happiness. On that basis, Christchurch should be a very happy city at the moment. OK, that observation is somewhat tongue in cheek, but I have to admit that I have rather enjoyed the challenge of finding new routes to work. So far, for my twice a week job in which I have to cross town, I haven't once gone the exact same route either to work or coming home. I'm running out of sensible possibilities though - soon I may have to admit that I'm not likely to find a better route than those I've explored already. Though that is always open to change, as new roadworks crop up, or temporary cordons due to demolitions.

2) To the person who put up the home made sign that I pass on my way, offering $40 chimney sweeping: do you really think anyone in Christchurch has a chimney left to sweep? It's time to find a new trade. I believe plumbers and drain layers are in huge demand.

3) Our emergency repairs started, and then stopped again. The roof is more weather tight than it was, but there's still a gap in the eaves. They left their ladder behind, so either they are coming back, or they think it is weather tight enough for now, and just forgot the ladder.

4) At my other job, we listen to easy listening music on the radio. But then there are the ads. I'm getting really tired of listening to ads for roofing companies etc, wanting earthquake repair business. Has anyone actually had their insurance claim settled yet? Most of us are a long way off being in a position to actually choose repair companies.

5) My replacement at my twice a week job started work yesterday. I have a month to train her before I finish up. Two of us working together should make a big impact on the backlog of work. Suddenly the pressure got a whole lot less.

6) NaPoWriMo starts tomorrow. I still haven't quite decided if I feel up to the challenge of writing a poem a day for April. I haven't written anything except blog posts and the occasional e-mail since February 22nd.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Little Things...

It seems my emotions are easily joggled up or down at the moment. This is probably quite normal given the circumstances. I arrived home from work to find that the chimney had disappeared from our driveway, and progress was being made on fixing the hole in the roof. This is the three day emergency repairs that we were promised, and it has only been nine days since we were promised them. Which I think is actually pretty good given the number of people who are likely to be on the three day emergency repair list. Also, despite being told that the roof wasn't weathertight, I checked inside the roof space on Sunday when it was raining hard, and there didn't seem to be much getting into the roof at all.

So- repairs were happening, the sun was shining and I was feeling very happy. Until I checked my e-mail and found one reporting a Problem which I now have to sort out (administrative stuff for a volunteer job I do) and I became very grumpy again. There are a few other things I have to do for said administrative job, which were decided on two days before the earthquake, and then they didn't happen due to lack of open banks and my being generally distracted. So I have various errands queued up which rely on finding an open bank, which there isn't anywhere near my home at the moment.

Tomorrow on the way to work I have to go to the physio, collect mail from the out of the way Mail Centre, because the post office box is still cordoned off, find any cheques in said mail and bank them, probably in my lunch break. Hoping that the traffic is not too gridlocked as everything takes a little longer these days.

I did manage to get a few things done this evening, in between relieving my stress by playing way too many computer games. In fact I am getting things done, like mending, that have been waiting in the cupboard for several years. I think this is because there are so many broken things around me (china, the roof, the sewage system, the central city....) that I am desperate to fix something.

Most of the time I am very grateful that we are a lot better off than many others in the city. And in Japan. And then every so often the inconvenience of things gets to me.

I only have to hold on for one more month and then I will have a whole free day a week to do errands at my leisure. It was planned before the earthquake, but it couldn't have come at a better time.

To all those people who comment on news websites that we should just get over the earthquake and move on:
How about we move on to your houses, your jobs, your nice undamaged neighbourhoods?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tuesday Poem: 9 O'Clock Call to Prayer, by Marissa Johnpillai

Nine o'clock call to prayer

The bell of the cathedral rings & I give thanks
for the generations of historical building societies:
the worshippers
of hewn stone & gables;

it rings and I give thanks for mortar grooves,
for the fashion of gargoyle motifs
I look up;
the bell rings;

I give thanks for steeples,
for hotel doors that open automatically,
for balconies on apartments;
it rings & I give thanks

for restaurants
hiding like mice in alleyways,
for second-hand stores,
for souvenirs, for the neon

of English, Japanese & Korean the bell rings;
I give thanks for window displays, for takeaways, for travelling
coffee mugs, for the pep of people in well-pressed suits receding
joyfully into offices; the bell rings.

I must give thanks for the hands
& knees of workers now dead, those who have knelt
to plant brick upon brick, for their dusty dungarees
the bell rings, and God!

I give thanks for the inventor of dungarees,
the makers of dungarees, the fabric millers, metal forgers
turning out buttons & buckles for dungarees, the patient fingers
of all those who have taught children how to do up the clasps.

The bell rings. I give thanks for this tiny piece of world
in which there is the possibility of rolling
from a sidewalk
into a stream.

I loll on a grass verge. The bell rings.
I give thanks for the tolling, for the falling of heavy sound
like a dome over these city blocks, for the hourly exposure
of its sacred acoustics.

Marissa Johnpillai finds herself in Otautahi, turning over thoughts with a garden fork. She has studied and taught at the Christchurch School for Young Writers, and in 2007 received an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University of Wellington. With the help of a Creative Communities grant through the Christchurch City Council she published a chapbook of poems Hymns for Her in 2009.

Marissa is both a talented poet and an excellent performer of her work. Her reading of the above poem can be found on her website A Problem like Marissa.

It has been on my mind in the past week. I offer it here, with her permission, both as a reminder of what we still have to be thankful for, and in the hopes that the cathedral bells will be heard ringing again before too long.

Links to further Tuesday poems can be found in the sidebar at the main hub site.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Thematic Photographic: March Madness

I took these photos on Norfolk Island, someone there obviously has a sense of humour (even if their spelling seems a little off, in the second sign). They seemed appropriate for Carmi's theme for the week: March Madness. The rules - if it's taken in March, and if it demonstrates madness, silliness or irreverence, it fits. Anything else I posted today would just be a big whine, so something that brings a smile to my face - or yours - is particularly welcome today.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Earth Hour

Three years ago Christchurch was the first city in New Zealand to officially celebrate Earth Hour. A crowd of 2000 gathered in Cathedral Square to watch the lights go out, while around the city , others were taking part in their own homes.

This year there has been very little mention of Earth Hour in our newspapers, although I believe it is being celebrated elsewhere in New Zealand. There are no lights - and no people - in Cathedral Square - Civil Defence personnel and construction workers aside - and there hasn't been for the last month. Many residents went without all power for a period lasting from a couple of days to two weeks or more. In the south and east of the city, we have an electricity grid that is cobbled together from "extension leads" due to the many breaks in underground cables. Rather than turning lights off, we are being asked to conserve power so that the lights can stay on. Not just for an hour, but on an ongoing basis.

The Earth Hour organisers this year are asking people to go "beyond the hour" and make a more permanent commitment. Perhaps conserving power will cause the citizens of Christchurch to change their habits more permanently. More likely, there will be a rebound in electricity usage once the network is restored, as people indulge in pleasures they have gone without in the meantime.

I'm not convinced that in New Zealand, where we have non-polluting hydro-electric power, greenhouse gas emissions are significantly affected if we turn off a light or two. Of course, some of our power stations are coal-fired, so keeping our consumption down is probably a good thing. However a large part of our emissions come from agriculture. Scientific research into improved farming methods is far more likely to help the planet. And on a personal level, reducing our use of motor vehicles seems to me to be far more important.

Aside from forced savings due to earthquake-hit infrastructure, my biggest change this year will be to leave my job on the other side of town - the one I do two days a week at present. I'll be working more days at my other job, and will be endeavouring to walk to work more often. Not, if I am truthful, to help the planet - though that's a beneficial side effect - but because I enjoy the exercise, and because it's healthy. Ultimately, I think people change their habits more easily if there is some personal side benefit. That's the real challenge - to give people motivation to change their habits, other than the feel-good factor of maybe saving the planet, ten years or twenty years or a hundred years in the future.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

And Another Thing...

One month on...

(References to "today" in this post actually refer to "yesterday". It seems I don't have the automatic post scheduling thing quite sussed out yet).

The more I look at our chimney sitting in the driveway, the more amazed and grateful I am at how far it travelled sideways before landing. By my calculations, about eight feet. It's a potent illustration of just how strong the sideways shaking was - apparently off the usual scale, and several times stronger than in the Japanese earthquake. Of course, in Japan they have other problems. If the chimney hadn't travelled so far sideways, it would have come crashing through the roof into our living room, and done far worse damage.

The sign proclaiming Sydenham is open for business has been taken down. I guess it didn't seem appropriate now that Sydenham is - well - closed again.

I went to the physio today. She is back in her usual clinic at a (sort of) local leisure centre, but the gym and pool are not yet open. Maybe next week. On the other hand, she told me that the city's main Olympic pool may not be able to be rebuilt at all on the same land, as the land is too damaged.

The local library on the other hand is open. In fact it is almost the only library in Christchurch that is. (Hurray for well-designed modern buildings). Which means that the car park is full, and all the streets surrounding it are full of parked cars. I'd walk there, except there is the small matter of the Achilles tendon, which is the reason for being at the physio in the first place. It's finally improving, so I may be able to get to the library in a week or two.

I stopped at a dairy on the way home and looked over the rack of magazines. Oprah has a feature on how not to go shopping when stressed. No problem around here. Finding a shop that is open, driving through heavy traffic taking twice as long as normal, and fighting for a space in the car park or indeed on any street within a few blocks of the mall is all far too much effort to go through just for impulse buying. (Thank goodness there is at least a supermarket open not too far from here).

Gerry Brownlee, our Earthquake Recovery Minister, wants to get the message out that Christchurch is open for business. Yeah right. Perhaps he would like to discuss that over a coffee in the City Mall? (Likely to be cordoned off for a few months to come).

My daughter's blog post on how to survive: I particularly liked the last bit.
The first year: You want normality. This may be in short supply. Salvage what you can and adjust to the rest.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Everyone Sang, by Siegfried Sassoon

I was a bit behind the ball this week, and hadn't organised any permissions for Tuesday Poem. I didn't have one of my own in mind either. That ruled out any living poets, any New Zealand poets who had died less than fifty years ago, any from most of the rest of the English-speaking world who died less than fifty years ago, and pretty much all of the non-English speaking world, since I have yet to find a translation that is not copyright (the translators having died less than seventy years ago).

I had in mind to post Siegfried Sassoon's poem Everyone Sang. Sassoon is one of the poets known for his First World War poems, and I assumed at first that he had died in the war, but I was wrong - he died in 1967.

This particular poem seems in some ways the opposite of a war poem. Instead of the horrors of war, it speaks of heightened joy.

Everyone suddenly burst out singing
And I was filled with such delight...

But I wonder if the intense feeling expressed is just the other side of the coin - if the capacity for intense joy and intense horror might go together. In fact the poem itself mentions that horror/drifted away. And a little research suggests that it was written in celebration of the Armistice.

It seems a good time to read a poem that celebrates the end of horror. (Click the link above to read the full poem). It's long been a favourite of mine, even without knowing its history. Here are the last lines of the poem, almost like a prayer:

and the song was wordless;
and the singing will never be done

More Tuesday Poems at the main hub site.

Monday, March 21, 2011


I have been digging around in my photo files for photographs of Christchurch buildings. It looks as if many of these will be gone by the time the cordons round the city are removed. Many, of course, are half gone already. Some are considered important enough to save, but it will take large amounts of money and considerable time.

The modern sculpture with the four rotating red sections still stands. It can be seen in this video flyover of Christchurch after the February 22nd earthquake, with buildings in ruins all around it. The large palm tree still stands, too. I photographed the backpackers' hostel behind it about a month after the September 4th quake, which it survived quite well. It too, is now in ruins. The only evidence I have of that is the video I've linked to above. It is a city in transition, although what it is in transition to is yet to be revealed.

For more transition themed photos visit Carmi here

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Finding New Ways

As planned I started the day by doing some gardening. The garden has gone rather wild in the last month while I was distracted, but at least it is something I have some control over. By the end of the weekend I hope to have made a significant difference. Then we had a visitor: the EQC rapid assessment inspector. The EQC (government earthquake insurance commission) has learnt from the September quake and they have a much more efficient way of going about things this time. Every house in the Christchurch metropolitan area, as well as some outlying areas, is to be visited over the next two months, starting with the worst affected areas. As it is only a week and a half to two weeks into the process, our area must be quite high on the list.

It is a sort of "triage" - properties are sorted into categories, with a full inspection to be done later. But our visitor seemed to have a very fast and accurate eye for damage - for instance, standing at the door he noticed that our dining room floor was not quite level which we hadn't spotted. He asked if we had a marble, and P found a ball bearing which he placed on the floor, whereupon it rolled quite merrily to the other side of the room. What with the unlevel floor, the fact that we have a door that won't shut and another that won't open (fortunately there are two entrances into that room, especially since it is the toilet!), the chimney that fell down, damaging the eaves, and some widening cracks, he said that he would err on the side of caution and put us into the "severe structural damage" category - a bit higher than I had expected. He did hasten to assure us that the house is quite safe to live in. This should mean a visit for a full assessment within four months, however he then inspected the hole where the chimney fell and pronounced the house not fully weathertight - though temporary repairs had been done on the day - so we have been marked down for emergency repairs with a visit within three days. I assume that will take care of the hole in the roof only, and then we will go back on the four months list.

Later I went for a drive. Before the quake I had signed up for Joanna's poetry editing class. It has been rescheduled and as the original venue is not available, it will be held in a private home. The direct route though, goes right through the red zone. So I thought I would check out some roads while there wasn't pressure on to get there in time. This route skirts the east and north of the red zone. It is mostly OK except for the bridge:

What was normally four lanes - two each way - has become two. It will be fine for access to the weekend workshop, however my idea that it might be a more direct route to work may not be such a good one. I can imagine it getting gridlocked in rush hour (just the same as all the other roads that are still open).

I was very happy to spot this sign on a tree:

I've been to a poetry book launch at the Beat Street Cafe, a lovely friendly little cafe right on the edge of the red zone. It is really good to see things opening again.

Dinner with the family - almost like a normal Saturday night, except that I took my daughter home by car as the buses are unreliable. She says they are OK for coming from her house to ours, as it is at the beginning of the route where they are still running to timetable. Going the other way, she is at the end of the route and it is anybody's guess when the bus will arrive.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Memorial Service

As I mentioned yesterday, today was a public holiday in Christchurch and a large memorial service was held in Hagley Park. I thought about it, and I didn't go. Suggested transport was bike, walk or bus. My strained Achilles tendon wasn't going to permit either of the first two, and it looked as if the buses would be terribly crowded, as would the event, with insufficient portable toilets for the large crowd. As it turned out, it seems to have been OK. Two of my daughters were there, the other had gone to Wellington for a friend's birthday. Probably because quite a few others stayed away for the same reasons - reports are that there were about 30,000 there or 1 in 10 residents. I did however watch some of the video this evening - the fourteen minute montage of the damage in the city, and a shorter piece showing the clean up afterwards.

There was a reason why the mayor Bob Parker and the TV crews were always shown at the same damaged corner in the September quake. Much of the city wasn't so badly damaged. This time it was different. None of us have been in the central city yet (apart from the rescue crews, the Prime Minister and Prince William), but the video shows street after street with extensive damage. It is rather chilling.

What I did do in the end was go to work. I didn't have to, however the disruption of painters at the office, followed by the quake, followed by two weeks' leave which I had arranged long since meant that I had almost a month's worth of work piled on my desk. I know from experience that this makes me stressed out. And the last thing the city needs at the moment is more stressed people. The sooner I catch up, the sooner I can relax.

Besides, work is about the only thing that it makes sense to do at the moment. In the evenings I find myself feeling a little lost. After cooking and cleaning, that is.

Two whole free days coming up and I have to figure out what to do with it when much of the city is closed. The garden needs a clean-up, and there are other possibilities - I'm thinking of doing a little exploring and trying to find out exactly what is still open - libraries, farmers' markets, and the like. I also need to find more ways to get around the city, as I have some appointments coming up for which the limited routes I have been using won't do.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Earthquake Update: Three Weeks On

I thought it might be difficult returning to work after a week away on a peaceful subtropical island. In fact, it was surprisingly easy. Returning to work after an earthquake was a struggle, as I felt highly distracted. Returning to work after a holiday felt normal in comparison. Something has shifted this week. I no longer feel as if I am living through an event that is continuing to happen - the earthquake, the aftershocks, the rescue efforts. Now it is more as if something has already happened. The city has changed, but this is the way it now is.

Not that things don't change from day to day, but the changeability is part of the way things are, too. For instance, as we neared our home returning from the airport, we found a newly-placed sign on the corner advising the street was closed to through traffic - residents only.

The street didn't look more dangerous than it was when we left. The next morning I found the reason - major construction work down at the other end of the street. It's not clear whether it is the bridge or perhaps the sewage pumping station that is being repaired.

And in our street blue piping has sprung up down both sides of the street. It appears to be a temporary fix to broken water pipes, diverting flow around the many leaks.

Today when I went to work I encountered a major traffic jam where there wasn't one before. The street was down to one lane. A "stop-go" man with his reversible sign let the queued traffic through first from one direction then the other. I'm happy to see it though as there is every evidence that this, and another badly damaged street in the area, are being rapidly repaired and will have a new, smooth surface in a couple of days time.

At work I collected my water bottles which a colleague, who lives in the country, had filled with clean artesian water. News reports are that the "boil water" restriction on the city supply may be lifted by the end of the month. Only because it will be chlorinated, though, giving it an unpleasant taste for drinking. I may keep fetching supplies from outside of the city for drinking, but the chore of boiling water for dishes will come to an end. I'm using the tap water for laundry, and washing, but keeping it away from faces - so it is bottled water for brushing teeth, and I haven't yet come to a satisfactory solution for washing dish cloths, face cloths and tea towels. I soaked them in a nappy (diaper) sanitising solution and hung them on the line without rinsing, but they came out smelling so nasty that I decided I need to find another way. Maybe I will just pile them up till the end of the month.

Another thing that happened while we were away was that a contractor repairing water pipes cut through a 66,000 volt electric cable. Consequently the south of the city (where I live) is reportedly "running on extension cords" and we have been requested to conserve electricity. The capacity is being severely stretched, and people are returning to the city as schools and work places start to reopen. There is a list of things that are OK to use - lights, computers, toasters, showers if short, and various others. There is another list of things that shouldn't be used at all - spa pools, heated towel rails, air conditioners for cooling, among others. A third list is of items that should be used "only when absolutely necessary". It includes electric heaters, ovens especially between 5 and 7 at night, stove top elements, irons, hair dryers. I'm a bit bemused. How do you define when use of an iron is "absolutely necessary"? When the clothes are crumpled? That's business as normal. When they are more than a certain amount crumpled? Only if you are leaving the house in said crumpled clothes? Or only if you have an audience with someone important like Prince William (who was in the city today)?

Tomorrow is a public holiday with a memorial service in Hagley Park. I've decided not to go, but more on that tomorrow, as this post is long enough already.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Week in the Pacific

"Pacific" seems a very appropriate name for the spot we spent our holiday, given its meaning. We didn't plan our holiday as an escape from the earthquake aftermath, but it was certainly well-timed coming when it did.

Norfolk Island is an interesting little island and it helped put a few things in perspective. It is halfway between New Zealand and New Caledonia, about an hour and three quarters' flight from Auckland (which is an hour and twenty minutes from Christchurch) - closer to New Zealand than Australia, although it is actually a territory of Australia. It has a population of 1800, swelled another 1000 by tourists at peak times. When we were there, we spotted a sign in the Westpac bank stating there were 495 visitors on the island. With only a few plane loads arriving each week, I guess it is an easy matter to count up the arrival and departure cards and do an exact count. No real need for a census, then!

It was populated early on by Polynesian people, who left for unknown reasons. In 1788 it was resettled as a convict settlement - which was closed down in the early 1800s. Another convict settlement followed in 1825 (also closed down). And then in 1856 the island was given by Queen Victoria to the descendants of the Bounty mutineers, when their original home, Pitcairn Island, became overcrowded. About 40% of the inhabitants today are descendants of the Pitcairners. Surnames like Christian, Adams, Qunital, Nobbs are so common that the phone book lists people by their nicknames as well as their actual names. The owner of our accommodation was a descendant of Fletcher Christian - as was another woman we met on our introductory tour of the island.

In Christchurch after the September earthquake there were empty shelves at the supermarkets. The distribution centres in the west of the city had been damaged and goods had to be trucked in directly, which led to delays when stocks ran out. This time round, there were not so many empty shelves as the distribution centres were undamaged - the west being mostly unscathed this time. But there were occasional shortages, and runs on emergency supplies like bottled water, baby supplies and so on. Some supermarkets - the ones that were actually open - had limits on various items.

In Norfolk I was surprised to find quite a large number of items were "temporarily out of stock" at the supermarket. (Only two small supermarkets on the island). I was also taken aback slightly by the prices - about double those of New Zealand or Australia. Everything is either air freighted in or shipped, so it is expensive. We bought fresh milk the first day we were there, and when I went back for more later in the week, they were almost out. That's when I realised that it was a New Zealand brand, and there is one flight from New Zealand a week - so, fresh milk once a week. The rest of the time there is UHT milk in cartons. The whole island is one big cow paddock, but they are beef cattle, and there is no dairy industry. The fruit and vegetables on the other hand are all local and seasonal, apart from potatoes and onions. Apart from cost, strict biosecurity regulations are the reason for the lack of fresh produce imports. This meant that the range available was much more limited than we are used to - and again, it was expensive. With the exception of oranges, which were free from the tree outside the door of our accommodation! (There was also a fig tree - just finishing its season - and a pawpaw tree - its fruit not yet ripe).

Electricity on the island is diesel generated and about four times the cost that it is in New Zealand. So all ovens are gas, and there are no air conditioners. I am used to hand washing dishes, so it was halfway through the week before it suddenly occurred to me that there was no dishwasher in the unit, which would be most unusual for four-star accommodation anywhere else.

So - adequate enough accommodation, but not really luxury, except that it felt like utter luxury to have hot showers with uncontaminated water, to wash dishes without first having to boil the water, and to have access to a swimming pool - outdoor and unheated, but comfortably warm from the sun. There is nowhere in Christchurch to swim at the moment as the pools are all damaged (our main Olympic pool has sunk a metre) and the beaches are contaminated by sewage flowing from damaged pipes.

Of course it also helped that the people are friendly, the island beautiful, the climate temperate and the local fish absolutely delicious.

Photos to follow, and also some more earthquake updates, but I have had too many late nights this week catching up, so will now head to bed.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Related Events by Jessica Fox-Wilson

related events

set one bowl, empty on a counter. count
each breath until you fill it.

sit down, alone in a room. count
each breath until you talk or move.

set two identical bowls, side by side on a counter. fill
one bowl with honey, one bowl with rocks. which
is heavier in your hands?

live your life in your body. on one good day,
how light do you feel? on one miserable day,
how heavy are you?

set three identical bowls, side by side. same
counter. fill the left bowl with marshmallows,
the right bowl with mud. leave the middle empty.
which do you hold?

after your good day, after your bad day, sit
alone in a room. count each breath, until
you cradle yourself in inadequate arms.

fill one bowl with water. find the perfect
place to see your reflection. count
each breath until you dip your fingers
in the water, blur your picture.

one morning, stand naked in front of a mirror.
count each breath until you walk away.

hurl your bowl against the wall. gather
its remains. count how many shards it made.

live through life long enough to be devastated. walk
through life, not feeling your fingers anymore.

glue together the shards of your bowl. re-
construct its original shape. fill your bowl
with water, watch the water trickle out the seams.

try to remember feeling whole.


Jessica Fox-Wilson is a part-time poet and a full-time educator. Throughout her career, she has pursued her twin vocations of unraveling poems and serving college students, with varying degrees of balance, luck and success. She writes about this balancing act at her blog, Everything Feeds Process.

related events is included in her recently published collection, Blameless Mouth. Jessica has worked on this manuscript for the last five years, exploring questions of hunger and consumption from a wide variety of angles, particularly as they relate to women's experiences. Woven through the collection are poems that are based on the stories of Eve, Hansel and Gretel, Red Riding Hood, Persephone, and others that explore modern pressures to consume more, while leaving us always unsatisfied.

I started reading the collection before the earthquake of February 22nd. I finished it while returning from a week's break in Norfolk Island - of which I will write more shortly - to a city where most shops are closed, and desires are more for dust-free roads, a hot shower and water that doesn't have to be boiled than for the latest consumer objects. It brought a strange shift in perspective. I debated which poem to post from the collection, until I came across this one near the end, and there seemed to be no question any more that this was the one to post. I chose on instinct, but perhaps it is the images of brokenness and wholeness that called to me.

Jessica has been conducting a blog tour to publicise Blameless Mouth. Other stops on the blog tour are listed on her blog here.

More Tuesday Poems are linked to from the main hub site - click on the quill icon in the sidebar.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Earthquake: Day 12

It felt strange this morning to get up and not have to go to work, it made me feel quite restless. I decided that it was OK to do a small load of laundry now that we have water back on, tidied up a bit and then drove the girls to the airport.
Later my brother came over to borrow my preserving kit. This is a large stainless steel waterbath with an electric element in it, and a tap on the side - it hadn't occurred to me, but it will be very suitable for boiling a large quantity of water (though it takes quite a long time to come to the boil) - so he can use it while we are away.

He also asked if he could bring over some laundry and have a shower, although I haven't had a shower myself yet (I've been washing in a small bowl of water) I said OK since he doesn't have water at all. But when he arrived I discovered the water was off again. It seems to go off every day while work is done on the pipes.

D works as a postie and had spent the morning checking out the routes in the hill suburbs, which have been badly hit, to see which were safe to deliver to. He had seen extensive damage, big modern houses which had just collapsed or split in two.

Talking about the waterbath reminded me that I had done some preserving a couple of days before the quake and there were sixteen jars of peaches sitting on the kitchen bench on the day of the quake, waiting until I was sure they had sealed properly before I removed the rings, rinsed off the sticky syrup from the outsides of the jars and put them away. (See photo above). I arrived home convinced that they would be smashed all over the kitchen floor, but not one of them had fallen. It all seems to be something to do with direction - I think they had moved towards the back of the bench while china in cupboards on the opposite side of the room had moved forwards, the doors had flung open and china had fallen on the floor and broken.

I noticed some of the stacks of china were leaning off kilter this evening so I unlocked the cupboard (which we locked after the quake to keep the doors from opening in aftershocks), Just as I straightened it up we were hit by a loud rumble - a 4.8 aftershock, the biggest for a while.

I'm looking forward to getting away for a break. The cordon around the central city is to be reduced slightly tomorrow, I wonder how things will be when I get back?

I noticed that my readership stats were up by 300% last week. There must be a better way to achieve that than an earthquake!

Friday, March 04, 2011

Earthquake: Day 11

I thought I would start with this photo of my office taken before my boss and his wife started to tidy it up. The chair in the foreground is where I was sitting when the shaking started, I wasn't too worried at first as I tend to think "oh, another aftershock, it's a bit bigger this time". So the first thing I tend to do is put a hand on the monitor to steady it. Then all the file boxes started to fall down on my desk, and the filing cabinets behind me tipped out and the cabinets started to tip forward, at which point it seemed a really good idea to duck under the desk.
When it all stopped and my boss said "That's it. Go home" I actually wondered about tidying up because there was so much stuff on the floor I couldn't reach the door - in the end I just climbed over. I still didn't realise at that point just how bad it had been.

Today I worked half a day, it was supposed to be until 1 pm but by 12.30 we had both had enough. So I had lunch and set off on my errands - warrant of fitness for my car, foreign cash etc. At the bank I said "do you have any Aussie money?" and the teller looked worried and said she thought they might have run out, however she managed to find me some, all in $10 notes. We are leaving for a week in Norfolk Island on Sunday. Two of my daughters are going to Palmerston North while we are away. My brother has just returned from Wellington to go back to work as a postie. My cousin has gone to Queenstown. About 20% of the population of Timaru - a small town about two hours drive south - is from Christchurch at the moment. And in the worst hit areas of Christchurch about 40% of houses are empty. No wonder it was decided to cancel our census, due March 8th. It would have led to some very strange results. Some of these people will come back, others have had enough and have left town for good.

I have been trying out different routes to get from our side of the city to the less damaged northwest - dubbed "Shower City" because they have power, water and sewage all intact. I decided this time not to choose the nearest bank because the nearest open one for me is the nearest open one for about half the population. It made more sense to go a bit further and find one with shorter queues. In the car park about two thirds of the cars were bright and shiny, and one third were covered in fine dust. It was a hot windy day and by late afternoon my eyes were hot and itchy - more than I can ever remember them being. I wear glasses which should be some protection but I hear that wrap-around sunglasses are being recommended, as well as dust masks.

I took these photos on my way back home.

One of the cordons stopping people from entering the city - I feel sorry for these soldiers, it must have been hot boring work. You can just about get some glimpses of damaged buildings from here but it's not very clear. I didn't notice till I looked at the photos later that there is a flag in the photo, and it is at the top of the flagpole. All the other flags around town are flying at half mast. This one is inside the cordon and must have been like that since before the quake.

This is the Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament just north of the cordon a couple of blocks from the first photo. When the soldiers saw I was taking pictures they said I could go closer, if escorted, so one of them walked the hundred yards or so up the street with me to directly opposite the cathedral, where I took the photo. I think they were bored with standing around and were glad of something to do. There are cordons within cordons - there is another just north of this and I'm pretty sure there was no way they were going to let me go any further, even if I'd asked.

When I got home I was on rabbit ferrying duty, as the pet rabbits are going to stay on my other daughter's back lawn while the two younger ones are out of town. Between delivering and setting up the hutch, and the second trip to transport the rabbits, we made a trip to the supermarket where we filled up the boot of the car with goods to take to the Food Centre in Aranui, a low income area on the badly affected east side of the city. The TV cameras haven't ventured here much - all the focus has been on the business district and the rescue effort there. But there are people still without power, water and sewage, and many of these people also have no transport and are ill-prepared to know what is going on and how to get help. Our donations were gratefully received and in return we were offered water, and bread, which we declined.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Earthquake: Day 10

I slept much better last might, although I did wake a few times - including being woken by a sharp aftershock at 2.55 am, followed by another 4 minutes later.

I had a physio appointment in my lunchbreak. I was chatting to the physio about her workplace and she told me that their other clinic at Pioneer Stadium is now open. The gym, however is still being used as a Welfare Centre by Civil Defence, and the pool is out of action until inspected and repaired if necessary. It was not too bad, she said - QE II pool, the city's (only, I think) Olympic sized pool has sunk a metre and will have to be demolished and rebuilt. There is nowhere to swim at the moment - thinking of a relaxing day at the beach? Think again - the water is full of sewage from broken pipes.

Not being able to swim is trivial really compared to what some households are going through. 22,000 households remain without power and many more without water or sewage.

I arrived home to find that the emergency teams had got around to us and given us a green sticker, which means our house is officially safe to live in. Yay! It's an imaginary green sticker - in residential areas, only the red stickers are actual physical stickers.

P has been cleaning out the fish pond which was choked with weed. The water level was getting perilously low. So I suggested emptying the rest of the rain water in the barrel into the pond, as it now contains too much silt to use for dishwashing. The fish pond is still low but not quite so much. The tap water, which is still unreliable, is chlorinated and fish don't like that. I've cleaned out the rain barrel so that if it rains again we can collect clean water.

I have just been to get petrol, and a small sized rabbit hutch, so the girls' rabbits can go to a foster home while we go out of town for a break. I managed the rabbit hutch, however I planned to get discount petrol at our usual supermarket, which had re-opened, but now it is closed again - cordoned off with soldiers guarding the cordon, and engineers in the car park.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Earthquake: Day 9

Services are beginning to be restored in some areas. When we hear that, we tend to assume it will be in the north and west. However, I was pleased to find that mail is being delivered again in our area. There doesn't seem to be a week's worth of mail, though. Normally we would receive something every day, so after a week there should be more than one item in the letterbox, surely? I guess there is a really big backlog at a sorting depot somewhere.

We are not so fortunate with the mail for Takahe magazine, whose box lobby is behind the cordon. So we will have to go to the Mail Centre at Orchard Rd, near the airport, to retrieve the mail from there, and anything that arrived in the box between Sunday 20th when it was last cleared, and Tuesday 22nd, may have to wait weeks or even months before we can access it.

The news is suggesting that the CBD may not be open until Christmas.

The buses are also beginning again on some routes. We thought that would be the north and west, but the Orbiter, a wonderful service which does a circular route round the city, via many schools and malls, is also resuming. The route will not be so much an "O" though, as a "C" with one segment of the route inaccessible. Still, it means my eldest daughter who works at the university and doesn't drive will actually be able to get to work when it reopens, so that's a big plus. And perhaps having buses running will help with the congestion on the roads.

At the same time, the cancellations are starting to appear. The Ellerslie Flower Show, of course. Siobhan Harvey was planning a launch of her poetry book at the South Library on 8th March - now cancelled. And I had to point out that MCB, where she planned to deliver some copies to be sold, is in the Science Alive building which is behind some serious safety fencing (though my daughters tell me that someone is being allowed in to retrieve the turtle).

Annie Proulx was to speak on March 17th, I had planned to go but that is cancelled. The Press were planning a mini writers festival in May to replace the September festival cancelled after the earlier quake. It hasn't been announced as cancelled yet, but I'm not hopeful. The university has cancelled their April graduation ceremony. The Canterbury Poets' Collective has postponed their autumn series (at which I was scheduled to be a guest reader) until October. The venue for that one is behind the cordons, too. There just aren't many venues available at the moment, and inviting guest readers to visit the city right now would be a big ask. Many, many locals have also left town.

Even so, today felt remarkably normal. Except that I was really, really tired - but I stuck it out at work, because I felt that if I went home and slept during the day, I'd be even more likely to wake at 4 a.m again tomorrow, and the cycle would start again. Actually, I think work is the best thing even though it's hard to get into it at times, and I am trying not to spend too much time on news websites.

I was trying to figure out an appropriate answer to "how's your house?" or "how's your family?" I tend to say, the house is good, it has some damage but it's still liveable. The family are all safe. And of course, we are lucky - our house is not buried under a ton of rubble, or flooded with muck and silt and listing off its foundations because of ground subsidence. Our family are physically fine. But at any other time, if the chimney fell down, cracks appeared in most of your external and internal walls, the driveway developed several big cracks, and yours was the only house it had happened to, you wouldn't think it was "OK". And if family members moved to sleep on the couch just to be handy to the doors, and avoid being upstairs, you wouldn't think they were OK.

The constant coming and going of helicopters overhead is easing off. First it was the news media, then the engineers checking the stability of hillsides - there is an ongoing nervousness about possible rockfalls - and there is also the group flying in hot food to people in eastern suburbs where the roads are too bad to get in easily on the ground. Helicopters, soldiers manning cordons, rubble in the streets - no wonder people are comparing it to a war zone. At least no one is shooting at us.

It was a windy day, whipping the dust from the rapidly drying silt into fine eddies. Our barrel of rainwater that we were heating to wash dishes has developed a fine film of silt over the surface. So we are now using the tap water, which has to be boiled. It takes a long, long time to fill a large saucepan full as the pressure doesn't look like improving any time soon.

Odd bits of good news, such as the pigeon which was rescued alive from the rubble of the Cathedral tower, after being trapped for nearly a week. Can one hope that there will be similar survival stories to come for one or more of the human casualties?

Here is David Howard's moving elegy for Rhys Brookbanks, a young poet listed as missing in the CTV building.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Earthquake: Day 8

My current car was bought in March. Which means that the registration, insurance and warrant of fitness all fall due at once, at the beginning of March. I had it in my to do list when the earthquake struck, and I really wanted to get it sorted as it is no time to have anything uninsured.

The insurance company office that I usually pay at is behind the cordon, and our local post shop where I would normally pay the registration is closed. So, in my coffee break I tried to ring the insurance company to pay by telephone with my credit card. I rang the freephone number and first got a recorded message saying how busy they were - which I expected - but then instead of being placed in a half hour queue, it switched to a busy signal. Looking in the phone book for the branch numbers didn't achieve any better results - every single one including the ones in the outlying country towns just came up with a busy signal. I tried the internet - took about ten minutes to load the main page of the insurance company, clearly contacting them online wasn't going to work very well either but at least the front page had a list of which branches were open.

So, at lunchtime, (just after observing two minutes silence at 12.51 p.m), thanks to an understanding boss, I headed off on an adventure. The nearest open branch was in Riccarton, it was very busy there but the car park of the big mall was closed with cranes and men in fluorescent jackets obviously conducting an inspection. I managed to find a half a car park - let the car stick out at the end into the no parking area and headed for the insurance office where they were surprisingly unbusy, and paid the bill.

Then on the way back I headed to the nearest open Post Shop and joined the queue which stretched as far as the door and a bit more. Clearly patience was required. However, mission accomplished - the car is now registered. And the warrant of fitness lasts a few more days, so I will put that one off to another day.

All in all my half hour lunch break stretched to about an hour and a half, but I will still be paid.

We had a lot of phone calls at work in the morning as it had come over the radio that the police had evacuated 65 houses in Bowenvale which is where we were. But we didn't really spot any action, we were on the wider flat part of the valley and I suspect the problem was on the hillsides, there have been concerns about a number of hillsides and cliffs which are threatening to crumble and take houses with them. I later heard that Bowenvale Avenue was closed, but when I went to drive home, it wasn't. Unless perhaps they were referring to the top end, further up the valley.

Other than that, just a normal day at work! With running water even, though as it has to be boiled, I took my own drinking water supply, to avoid pressure on the amount available.

This evening P and I went off to our normal supermarket, which I had heard was now open. It's on the edge of the cordoned off area. The street has been reduced to half width with fences around dodgy buildings. And just north of the supermarket is the cordon with soldiers on guard to stop anyone from going through. As it turned out, the supermarket has limited their hours in the meantime and it had closed. They also had a sign up that due to safety considerations no more than 400 people would be allowed in at once. We drove back home, slowly, watching for steps in the railway overbridge, and holes in the road so large that the word "pothole" really doesn't quite fit.

Tuesday Poem: Songs and Dances of Death

Songs and Dances of Death

What they did not know
was that the curious fertility of the soil
came about because they stood
on an ancient battlefield.
Sometimes, they would turn up old bones
and once, a skull. They took it to the priest
for burial and returned to their ploughing.
At night they told the old stories.
If you had asked "Can't you hear
the dead crying out?" they would say
"It's only the wind in the wheat."


All summer I read of these things.
In my garden the weeds grew lank.
It rained often. On the path
I could barely make out a small bundle
of feathers and bones.


In the museum there is a dark blue
velvet cloth. It has covered many at their burials.
As well seek them in the night sky as here,
their trace as faint.


It is because of their deaths that we have come.


This poem is not a sarcophagus.
This poem is not a mausoleum.
This poem is a brown cardboard box
sufficient to bury one dead blackbird
found on my garden path.


I had decided not to post a Tuesday Poem this week, and then at the last moment I thought of this poem and changed my mind. Not an earthquake poem, but its mood seemed appropriate. The event is huge, a "brown cardboard box" is all that I feel able to offer. It is another poem that results from my genealogy researches, and was published in our anthology, "The Chook Book" in 2004.

For more Tuesday Poems go to the main Tuesday Poem hub.