The Deronda Review
IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
You who seek meaning in this throe of earthWhere wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?
By which so many lives were swept away,
Recall that such are but the pangs of birth
Of mountains, rivers, flood-plains where life may
Unfold itself. Should these upheavals cease,
As in Australia, the continents,
Desert, would offer life the scantest lease:
Out of disaster comes our providence.
O humans, go out from your tiny frame
Of time, climb past the compass of these years
And view the agelong path by which we came!
Such contemplation cannot cancel tears,
Yet with a grander wisdom may we live
The life Creation’s motions take and give.
The night retreated, and the people rose
And did as they had planned the day before:
Launched fishing boats, fed children, mended clothes
Or sunned themselves along the quiet shore.
If anyone had dreamed, none had foretold
That their next day, their every future year,
Would be undestined by a wave that rolled
Across their land like a huge hand to smear
Their lives’ design to blankness, to replace
Structure with wreckage, conscious life with rot,
Mourners and mourned engulfed without a trace,
Their lives in one swift stroke summed up to Naught.
Through sea, through air, the bubble of the WHY
Mounted and burst beneath the stark impassive sky.
Scarcely had that great cloud of souls escaped
To wrap the earth in a vast soundless wail,
When hastily across the void that gaped
First threads were cast. The shock that on the scale
Of Earth had topped the numbers, sent a surge
Of sea across the hapless haunts of men,
Woke in the sympathetic sphere an urge
That rushed to the breach, to build them back again.
Ministers pondered meaning. Doctors flew.
Ships, aircraft brought supplies. Aid-workers fanned
Out over ruined plains. Charities drew
The coin of many a realm from many a hand.
The widow’s mite, the corporation’s dole,
The state’s, flowed to the spot, to make the great wound whole.
Wounds fester still, and still survivors comb
Lists for a sign of their mass-buried dead.
From loss of occupation and of home
Through years to come the aftershocks will spread
Their menace. Yet through all this, we are shown
The face of human mercy, and the will
To succor, to befriend, uplift the prone,
Toward reparation bending every skill.
A world made void, without a place to lay
Our head, nor field to till, nor face of kin –
This is not our desire, however we may
Give cause to fear it through mistake or sin.
O no! We want a world where seed may grow
To fruit, and age may bask in children’s faces’ glow.
O you who perished for no other cause
Than that your track of life had placed you where
The great deep lashed its blind tremendous paws,
To your attendant spirits be this prayer,
To your attendant spirits, to the One
Who breathed you, Who breathed order to the void
And breathes it even now, through everyone
Who lifts a hand to right what was destroyed:
O may the angels these good deeds have borne
Be with us still, hold steadily to our mind
Our Godly image which such works adorn
And strengthen, that we may be wisely kind,
Staying the yearlong course of this repair,
Keeping faith with Earth’s orphans everywhere.
29,000 children die each day from hunger
One good deed brings another.
Test That lifting and rebound of the great sea
Which sprang back like a trap on isle and shore,
Smoothed nature’s and man’s work to nullity
And children from their clutching parents tore,
Built in the realm of Lost only a small
City beside the far-flung conurbation
Of lives and goods that daily, yearly fall
Through human rage or thoughtless machination,
Tending toward ends that we cannot desire.
Yet if we here make remedy, then may
The thought of that accomplishment inspire
Us to address our own-made disarray;
And there where conscience points “Thou art the man”
Give heart to say, “I will repair, and can."
First published in Bellowing ArkEsther Cameron