Earthquake, Mexico City 1985

by Shirley Hilton

The city went dark and quiet, except for the sirens wailing
We moved numbly through our days, the transistor crackling
Reports out of Guatemala that we were lost and dead
Aftershocks sent mothers wailing prayers into the streets

We moved numbly through our days, the transistor crackling
In the night we huddled, better to be buried together
Aftershocks sent mothers wailing prayers into the streets
Trails of children hanging tight to aprons and each other

In the night we huddled, better to be buried together
By day me running meds and you collecting bodies, frightened
Trails of children hanging tight to aprons and each other
The newly homeless gathered by old cathedrals but never inside

By day me running meds and you toe-tagging bodies, frightened
Each day relearning to breathe and opening our eyes to hope
The newly homeless gathered by old cathedrals but never inside
Beggars beside businessmen beside matron and maid

Each day relearning to breathe and opening our eyes to hope
Mothers name-tagged their children and delivered them to school
Beggars beside businessmen beside matron and maid
We slowly forgot our trembling and looked around in awe

Mothers name-tagged their children and delivered them to school
We recognized that we were neither lost nor dead
We forgot our trembling and looked around in awe
We shoveled the rubble, swept the stoop, heard the sirens fading.

———

Shirley Hilton is a writer and personal coach, who divides her time between Iowa and Mexico, and has little desire to be anywhere else in the world. She was living with her husband and two-year-old daughter in Mexico City in 1985 when the city was jolted by a magnitude 8.1 earthquake killing over 10,000 people. Her pantoum is based on that memory. Shirley’s writing has appeared in Cedar Valley Divide, Women’s Edition magazine, and Backchannels. Her poems Dance and Maria Arena have become the lyrics for original compositions by jazz musician Ryan Middagh.