Sharon Olds – “Quake Theory”
When two plates of earth scrape along each other
like a mother and daughter
it is called a fault.
There are faults that slip smoothly past each other
an inch a year, with just a faint rasp
like a man running his hand over his chin,
that man between us,
and there are faults that get stuck at a bend for twenty years.
The ridge bulges up like a father’s sarcastic forehead
and the whole thing freezes in place, the man between us.
When this happens, there will be heavy damage
to industrial areas and leisure residence
when the deep plates
finally jerk past
the terrible pressure of their contact.
The earth cracks
and innocent people slip gently in like swimmers.
From Satan Says, 1980
I’m sure this poem sounds melodramatic to some. But it’s actually quite low-key for Olds: no genitalia, no blood, no 4-letter words. I think it is effective in its extended metaphor. She touches on everything from the subtle moments – her father putting his hand on his chin, the plates rasping – to the innocent people gently slipping into the pool of seismic dysfunction.