Safe | By Alexandra Teague

“The more comfortable man makes himself indoors,
the more dangerous do earthquakes become.”
“Let us all banish from our minds forebodings of
the future. WE ARE SAFE. Of this we may feel assured.”
-San Jose Mercury News, late April 1906

When your city wakes as the new ancient ruins:  blocks’ scrambled rubble:  Delphi’s oracle stone-lipped and raving in the streets (wasn’t it she who said to place your faith in wooden walls?). When buildings crumple like newsprint, catch in the wind’s fist, words burning into voweled cries, the living asleep with the dead—whom can you believe? A man shoots a man for stealing a can of tomatoes for his wife and child. A man shoots a man for cutting rings from a corpse’s fingers. Men crowd up broken brick to watch the bank safe opened:  Grecian doorway gaping dark as a throat. Natural contractions of the Earth’s crust, say the papers. Sun spots. Men who were millionaires at daybreak paupers. Saw blade of wall above dark bowler hats, the white sky cut. Inside the safe:  safe gold? Or paper money? Wings of bees? Or olive branches? Siren songs that drove the gods to murder? There is always a future, the past says. Always temples falling. Prophesies offered in a death-smoke high:  We Will Rebuild Better, Stronger.   Theater Dark Until Further Notice.   (Phroso, The Mysterious, Performance Cancelled)   Barnett Real Estate:  Proudly Selling The Earth. 


ReadStone Disease,” Teague’s companion sketch to “Safe.”

Secret Americas features writing about images from the U.S. National Archives.

Image via Wikimedia Commons – San Francisco Earthquake 1906, Opening a Safe, National Archives and Records Administration College Park

Alexandra Teague is the author of Mortal Geography (Persea, 2010), winner of the 2009 Lexi Rudnitsky Prize and a 2010 California Book Award. She is Assistant Professor of Poetry at University of Idaho and an editor for Broadsided Press. Her work previously appeared in NER 25.1-2.