Winner of the 2006 Vachel Lindsay Poetry Award
The game was not to look - but feel -
the slow drag, the distant rise
and fall, the quiet revolt of crests
gaining an underworld; to know in our heels
the moment of their advance: languid, insidious.
"Sanriku!" one of us would call -
a notice to the rest that it was imminent,
and with one lift, a solidarity,
we'd throw ourselves beachward,
tossing and rolling in a curled force.
Submerged, I would hear that call
like water's moan, or like the heaving sobs
of Asian fishermen, who felt too late
the slip of plates, the buckling floor,
the little missionary wave passing
beneath their boats; who, steeped
in so much grief, never knew
the clarity that follows every quake --
when there, for just an instant,
the contours of the seafloor below
are mirrored in the water around our waists.
Sanriku is a port in Japan that was destroyed by a tsunami in 1896. Fishermen 20 miles out to sea did not notice the wave pass under their boats because it only had the height at the time of about 15 inches. They were totally unprepared for the devastation that greeted them when they returned to the port of Sanriku - 28,000 people were killed and 170 miles of coastline were destroyed by the wave that had passed under them.