Brower is the editor of Malpaís Review. Issue number 4 is now available. The Malpaís Review publishes poems, essays, and translations from around the world. As their motto says, "The badlands are everywhere."
EPISTLE FROM THE OREGONIANS
(After Mt. St. Helens’ second eruption)
In Portland, metropolis of the Oregonians,
there was fear, disbelief, when scientists
said the volcano would erupt.
TV stations played film clips where
mountainside residents of the nearby
Washington cone said:
“Ain’t nothin’ gonna happen.
If God wanted me to die by volcano,
he wouda put me in Pompeii.”
But when the mountain lost its lava-dome head,
forests flattened by explosive haircut,
the blast killed unbelievers
who wouldn’t move from volcanic slopes.
And in Portland, we did think of Vesuvius,
when the second eruption threw into the air
a slow-motion snow of silver-shiny pyroclastic flakes
thin as metallic cellophane confetti that was novel,
odd and vaguely dangerous as they clogged
the breath of machines, made Oregonians
into masked ninjas, hilly streets flake-slick
when real rain fell from clouds over the city.
Many feared the city might collapse
like our sense of security
as the earth shimmied like water in wind
amid this strange cloudburst
of mechanical shavings softly floating earthward
instead of a downpour of proverbial dogs and cats.
We wondered if deadly gases would escape
the truncated mountain, leave us in deathly postures,
timeless lava-people strewn among Columbia River hills
where St Helen the Martyr morphed into fierce Hawaiian
volcano goddess Pele, as we thought we heard the echo
of Krakatoa in seismic dreams.
And, yea, though we walked through
the valley of pyroclastic shadow,
Oregonians and their city survived.
All we wanted was the mountain dormant again,
as we sang lullabies, created rituals,
hoping to soothe Pele, remind St. Helen
of her martyrdom, not ours.
We danced to create another geologic coma
as if it were a sleeping pill
and St. Helen
the wife of Rip van Winkle,
sacrificing into the crater
a trinity of preachers
and three volcanologists,
one group screaming
about the end of the world,
while the other
couldn’t tell us
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