Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Roster (Poem)

Katsushika Hokusai, The Breaking Wave Off Kanagawa (The Great Wave)
Color Woodblock Print from Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, ca. 1829-32

The Roster

Two hundred sixteen sheets
        of plain printer paper plaster

the public gymnasium's walls.
        Some number command many

other eyes elsewhere in the shelter,
        every scrap a make-shift of details

of what you cannot hold:
        height weight gender hair length

last place seen last time seen
        blurring in the blanks

of the roster checked
        and checked and checked again.

Not to find a name is not to find nothing.

In the golden tallgrass on a hillock
        outside town, soldiers prod and poke

with long, thin diviners' rods
        as snow freshens pines capped off

with fishers' nets. They gather
        and tag the morning's remains

of the last day: a lone business card;
        the Nikkon, its memory card intact;

a beautiful young bride's picture,
        its glass holding reflection. They whisper

of the white lace
        slip dangling from the rail

of the nearby bridge: not a sign
        of surrender; shards of a teapot;

the Mickey Mouse futon
        snagged just as a kitchen sink floats

by. A mile beyond, the concrete
        foundation's spotless now that the home

with a rice paddy in its front yard
        has traveled the distance to the lake

that used to be a plain, and fertile.
        The air-filled down jacket

that saved Mrs. Sato's life
        as she rode the wave, spending

her prayers between breaths, is news.
        You hear them say the search will go on

for days. The dogs will bark,
        you know, and the teams dig and dig

till the moon sheds no more light
        on the stories left unfinished

and the all-clear sounds, even
        as the gaps in the list fail to fill.

© 2011 Maureen E. Doallas

This poem conflates some of the details found in news accounts following the devastation in Japan on March 11, 2011.

 * * * * *

I offer this poem for the One Shot Wednesday event at One Stop Poetry, which each week invites poets to share, read, and comment on each other's work. Be sure to visit the site late Tuesday afternoon and every Wednesday for links to the many contributors' poems.

British Museum Details on Hokusai Print

Hokusai Biography

Hokusai Online


Daisy Hickman said...

Loved the poem, Maureen. Loved these lines ...

till the moon sheds no more light
on the stories left unfinished

Valerie Kamikubo said...

Well done Maureen.

Ruth said...

Your beautiful poem makes me realize that material things can be precious at such times.

S. Etole said...

the reminders of what is and what may be ... or not at all

Jeanne Damoff said...

This poem is haunting. I could play the literary analyst and admire your mastery of sound, cadence, and device, but that feels too academic for this piece with its groaning soul.

Brava, Maureen. Your gifts are gifts.

Anonymous said...

a beautiful quilt

Glynn said...

They found the body of the Virginia schoolteacher, who had been teaching in Japan. She had been reported as safe.

This poems aches, Maureen. Just aches.

Maureen said...

Glynn, that news saddens me.

I worked on this poem a lot, even revising some lines again late last night. I had to let it go.

I thank everyone here and on FB for reading and commenting.

robkistner said...

very poignant and chilling piece Maureen...

Image & Verse

Laura said...

Maureen this is such a beautiful tribute to those who were lost and those who remain.

Brian Miller said...

i agree with glynn...i had tears just reading thinking about it all...you open with some great aliteration that set the pace and the images just rolled from there...

Unknown said...

THis is so hard.

For some reason, when you told me about this poem, Maureen, I thought I read "rooster". I wondered about that. Roster. Maybe I didn't want to read that word. So many lists in this world. This one is heavy.

I like what Rabbi Harold Kushner said: God is in the courage of people to carry on their lives after the tragedy.

signed...bkm said...

Sad and silence being the saddest sound of all...bkm

violet said...

Oh my - so much pain.

I was looking at pictures of Japan on Boston.com/thebigpicture and feeling the sadness of individuals. It's the pain and confusion on individual faces that grabbed me there. This poem makes me feel the same way -- those little recognizable details of a life, so out of place that speak volumes of tragedy. You feel like weeping and wish it could be different.

Anonymous said...

Powerful, sobering, vivid. Kudos.

hedgewitch said...

Fine job of doing what words can do best, passing understanding and reality around in a form that can be seen and experienced from this great distance. Well written and well crafted but more importantly, well communicated and well felt. Thanks for posting the many links at the end, also.

Sonika Uppal said...

this is probably one of the best i have come across lately...it carried me on a wave...every line, every emotion dipped and rose so perfectly.

Shashidhar Sharma said...

Dear Maureen

Its so powerful and apt for the times that we live in... wish the suffering ends at the earliest. Your verse is kind of touched my raw emotions...
thanks for sharing...

ॐ नमः शिवाय
Om Namah Shivaya
At Twitter @VerseEveryDay

wolfsrosebud said...

Lose is never easy and it haunts one through decades with faces one would never imagine.

Carrie Van Horn said...

Maureen you have captured the loss brave and eloquently as only a true poet could...this is a powerful poem!

Nancie Mills Pipgras said...

Beautiful rhythm. Startling imagery. Straight to the heart.

Anonymous said...

Maureen. Moved beyond measure. A wonderful netting of feeling-soaked things and wisps of memory. There are times when it's just too large to carry in our hearts.

L.L. Barkat said...

Makes me ache inside.

Beautiful and terrifying.

Anonymous said...

So strong Maureen, so well projected, it is scary how quickly things can change and alter everything...on any shore...anywhere in the world! WELL DONE!

Kavita said...

The pace of the poem was amazing... and poem itself was so vivid and hauntingly descriptive..
Powerful, sad and very moving...

JL Dodge said...

Well done Maureen.

Great one shot !