Poetry / July 2018 (Issue 40: Writing the Philippines)

The Wasteland

by Michelle Tobias

from the television screen
a superstorm has wiped out
a chip in the archipelago
first came the rain, the wind,
and then the flood, the sand,
the colossal
stranded ship, the strewn debris,
lastly, the body bags

setting out with a bag
of old clothes, of camping food
a film camera
you drive
a rusty blue car
by a desire to capture
the wasteland

the earth still wet
from the sky's breaking water
scenes unfurl with road blocks
electric posts and lampposts crossing each other
x marks on the map
vehicles crushed with sharp edges
fallen trees, their roots
nerve endings of the earth
your blue car
pressed in between
cargo trucks of emergency supplies
ants marching down a trodden trail

fields of rubble push past
your window
homes reshuffled
pared down to steadfast walls
flung out iron roofs
stray doors and windows
the emblems of broken things
a wasteland of broken dreams
there, a loose nail
ready to prick someone's heel
and beggars, in separate hordes
scratching, tapping at car windows
pointing at their hollow mouths

and then, you are here
where there used to be the eye
of the superstorm
walled in your car
you and your little machine
vending pictures of this moment
those awkward clicks
the sound of the shutter
the blinding afterglow of the flash

here, a heap of dead dogs
burning, black smoke
thrashing heavenward
there, abandoned children
rummaging among garbage their
food, past life, new life
here, faces of old women
the sharpness of their wrinkles
the depth of their sorrows
the soft blur of their eyes
and there, a squadron of corpses
black body bags pushed
to the edge
of the street
one of the bags half-open
you park the car, engine running

opening the door comes a wave
of putrefaction and then
a lady in the black bag
a lifeless arm covering her breasts
one side of the bag forced
open, her thigh the color of
an unbarked tree
her hair black, mingling with sand
her eyes reflecting the sun
she is the smell
of the earth

you, me, all of us
cover her with our shadows
ravens circling a carcass
blotting out the sun
we pray for her
we beseech her
to tell her story
you strike a picture
and close her eyes, the eyes
of your sister, your mother
your daughter, your wife,
your family, humanity,

but what remains is the stench
of combustion running
your stillness
zipped halfway up a bag
of old clothes, food,
and a desire to capture
this wasteland
Website © Cha: An Asian Literary Journal 2007-2018
ISSN 1999-5032
All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.