On Sunday, soon after the Santa Cruz Sentinel published its article about this project, Robert Sward, a poet and novelist who’s taught at UC Santa Cruz, Cornell, and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, wrote me about the “Earthquake Collage” he had put together after the Loma Prieta quake. At the time, he was teaching at Cabrillo College, and his work with students and faculty and staff produced the collage. It runs from October 17, 1989, through October 23, 1989. I thought it would be best to reproduce the collage here day by day, from November 17 through 23, as a way to capture some sense of the daily rhythm of Loma Prieta and its aftermath. All accompanying photos are by Robert Sward. Here is his introduction and the first installment of a week-long series (read all installments by clicking on the “Earthquake Collage” category, or just go on to day 2):
As its name implies, the following is a collage of impressions, recollections, news items, poetry, and facts regarding the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and its aftermath. Compiled shortly after the quake, this collage provides a series of images of what it was like to be in Santa Cruz at that time. The people quoted at the start are from Earthshaking, a series of remembrances by Robert Sward’s students of their earthquake experience.
“Eleven miles below the Santa Cruz Mountains the earth erupted with the destructive force of a thermonuclear bomb.”
–San Jose Mercury News
“…these pieces of crust, called plates, restlessly roam about, driven by plumes of molten rock that roil up from the planet’s superheated core.”
–TIME Oct. 30, 1989
“San Francisco’s East Bay Vivarium (America’s largest reptile shop) reports 800 escaped animals, including full-grown boa constrictors, pythons, etc., roaming their giant warehouse.”
–The San Francisco Chronicle
Rita: I pour a glass of Coke. The microwave goes beep beep beep, telling me my popcorn is done. Dancing to the beat of MTV, I approach the refrigerator when, to my amazement, the house begins to dance along with me. Wow! I think, it’s an earthquake and it’s getting bigger.
Erin: I’ve been scuba diving. Surfacing, I see the land move in waves three and four feet high, the sandstone cliff falling onto the beach, a mist or fog of some kind rising…
Coral: …the restaurant begins bobbing up and down. I slither to the floor, watch my salad dressing plop upside down in slow motion, catsup bottles falling off the counter, people yelping, the ceiling high windows flapping like flags in the breeze… the roof groaning…
Steve: The gym starts bouncing around like a trampoline. Iron weights begin flying off their racks like popcorn popping. Dumbbells are clinking together like jingle bells, like people smashing wine goblets. Weight machines swaying, mirrors rattling…
Cindy: It’s 90 degrees and my family is sitting around the living room in bathing suits. My little sister has just lost her tooth. She stands up as the earthquake strikes our house. Teetering from side to side, she says, “I lost a tooth. I hope the tooth fairy will remember me.” Then, with a worried look, she falls to the floor.
Stuart: I point my finger at the floor, which is threatening to collapse, and begin shouting, “Quiet. Shut up. Stop right now…” to gain a feeling of control. I have to repeat myself because the noise of the quake drowns me out. Pointing my finger and yelling for order–like I do at school–makes me laugh.
Robert: When the house begins to rumble and the mirrors shake, I zip up my fly and dive into the cupboard under the bathroom sink. Holding on to the cupboard doors, I shut my eyes and feel I’m on the Big Dipper or the Grizzly. “Man,” I say, “this is some ride!”
Cheryl: She clings tightly to me and keeps her eyes closed the entire time. Eventually we hear people talking and feel safe enough to venture out. Our ‘ride’ must remind her of how Dorothy felt in the Wizard of Oz, for as we come out from under the table and open the door, she asks: “Where did the house land, Mommy?”
Don: Afterwards, we get together in the backyard with our neighbors and break out a couple bottles of champagne. We eat oysters and caviar and a rack of lamb. During dessert–a delicious apricot and chocolate tart–there’s a heavy aftershock. No more good manners. We dive under the table.
Shelley: We explore downtown Santa Cruz. We see a sidewalk of broken glass, a street filled with jewels.
The 7.1 tremblor wasn’t the Big One. In fact, people now refer to it as “The Pretty Big One.” The Pretty Big One killed 66 people, caused $7 billion in damages, destroyed downtown Santa Cruz, portions of San Francisco and Watsonville, scores of homes in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and left more than 10,000 people homeless.
Tuesday, October 17, 5:45 PM, Day 1
Sitting now in the stairwell–safest part of the house? – with G., four or five cushions around us, listening to SONY Walkman. No lights, no phone, just the Walkman and the aftershocks. A 5.0 tremor follows the 7.1. Nimitz Freeway collapse, “hundreds killed,” says the radio.
Earth in labor… tremors… The interval between contractions is diminishing while the contractions themselves increase in force. Or is it me? Call in gynecologist. “Doctor, doctor…” And what is the earth giving birth to?
Our hearts attack us. The earth attacks.