Earthquake Country By HELENE KNOX

Friday December 24, 2004

I am always ready for them. You never know  

when the room will jolt, the walls tremble and sway  

urgently toward you and away, shim mering finally  

into aftershocks. Living on the Pacific Rim,  

I have survived 30 of them, but am always waiting for  

The Big One. I am not ready. I can never  

fully relax. My idea of paradise  

is to rest, with a clear mind, with  


to remember, and stare into the  

shifting waves  

of Hawaii, or Tahiti, or Fiji, or Bali--  

but not Malibu, which could slide out from under me  

in an instant, into the vast Pacific. So much for L.A.!  

No way will I live  

there. Even in Oakland, I watch it, how I place  

no platter on its side in my house,  

the wineglass back from the edge  

of the shelf. “Will this survive  

your average earthquake?” I ask myself.  

Hell, no. Maybe. Will I? Cats go crazy,  

then hide. What could this mean? What do they know  

that we don’t? The continental shelf  

shrugs its shoulders. Bookshelves move. Palm trees  

sway. The Chinese hire cats and fish  

as scientists, to predict quakes. We  

put seismometers on the faults, then  

nuclear power plants, and big cities  

where people don’t read the phone book  

to find out how to live, what to do:  

turn off the main gas line! Is your wrench  

ready? You never know when the earth  

might move. Nashville is next. No kid ding. Terror  

will crack the heartland of the  


Valley, and bluegrass  

blues ensue. I’m such a Californian, I find myself  

unconsciously rearranging dishes in Texas  

and Pennsylvania, just in case,  

just as I always wash glass bottles  

for recycling, even when someone else in the house  

just throws them away. To want to care—  

not to litter the land that still might not  

support you, that could suddenly jerk  

the North American Plate into better alignment,  

like the squirming skin of an itchy  

armadillo. Only when my mind  

is very clear can I stride  

with assurance down some sidewalk floating on a  

lava mantle, on this ball  

still resonating from the Big Bang,  

hurtling at breakneck speed  

in an endless curve. 



—Helene Knox