You always smile when I tell my little stories,
but that one time when I was seven
your grin was paired with worried eyes.
You listened even if I was rambling on
about how elephants danced outside my classroom,
stomping their feet with chaotic grace
and ruining the line of cursive B’s that I was slowly completing.
I remember being so excited to share my theory
that you must’ve hated telling me that it was really
an earthquake and not dancing elephants that shook the ground.
It wasn’t until I saw on TV
the piles of what used to be sturdy shelter
that I finally understood why you hugged me so tightly
when I got off the school bus that afternoon.
As I watched those people onscreen
grieving for loved ones they would never get back, it struck me
how silly I was for thinking it was an elephant parade,
but then you tapped the point of my nose and said
you were glad to have a granddaughter
who had quite the imagination.
I look at you now and try to imagine
how you would look had the last fifteen years been kinder.
You hardly ever leave your bed these days.
Whenever I help you stand I fear that what’s left of you
will go rushing out through your feet
like potatoes through a rip in the bottom of a threadbare sack.
You’re also the one with all the stories now,
the remembered and the imagined bleeding together
to come out of your mouth
as something twice removed from truth.
I manage a shaky smile,
because you look so blissfully content,
telling me about the stroll you took that morning
with a husband much loved but long dead.
“Can you hear him? Your grandpa wants me to come home,”
you whisper one night,
and it’s the truest thing you’ve said in months.
You’ll come visit me in my dreams when you’re gone, won’t you?
I’ll have one of my little stories ready,
and you can tell me if there are elephant parades in heaven.
The above poem was written for and workshopped in a creative writing class that I took in university. For this assignment we were asked to choose a national or historical event and connect it with a personal or domestic event — macro to micro. I chose the “Killer Earthquake” that devastated Luzon in 1990.
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