Scott Ruescher Elegy for Omayra SánchezI could have stopped watching the reel about the mudslideThat buried the town of Armero in 1985 Any time I wanted. I didn’t need to see, among The many open windows on the screen of the laptop Computer in my office, the seismological diagramsThat showed the results of the quaking and shaking Of the snow-capped volcano, or the footage that followed With multiple examples of the twenty thousand people Who died when the earthquake shook loose the lava And set into motion the wide rivers of sediment That flooded the valley of Nevado del Ruiz Before the authorities could plan a mass evacuation. All I had to do, I knew, was click the little box In the upper left-hand corner and go on to something else Waiting on my computer. Even if it was related—An exposé, for example, on the inabilityOf the Colombian government during the 1980s To do much of anything about the problems in the country—It would have been more constructive than watching Clips spliced from reports by television news crews From a station in Bogotá that someone took the trouble To post on YouTube, offering the world a close-up view.I might have spent the time studying the weak attemptOf one administration after another to keep Its soldiers from killing campesinos in the mountains,To pacify the FARC guerrillas, or to capture Such paramilitarios responsible for the cocaine tradeAs the merciless mercenaries of Pablo Escobar,Who’d invaded the Palace of Justice just the week beforeThe burial of Armero, destroying the documents That were about to be used to indict himAnd abducting for execution more than twenty judges..I’d already heard enough about the mudslide anywayIn the international news the week it happenedThirty years before, and later on in a sad but good Expository essay by a native of Colombia, busted For smuggling coke at the airport in Boston, Who wrote about it for me in my weekly class at prison.That should have been enough to satisfy me for good. I didn’t need to sit there staring at the gruesomeLive footage they’d shown on voyeuristic television.But the first scene, shot from a helicopter, was hard To turn away from—roiling molten lava makingBillowing clouds of gray smoke and wisps of white steam Swirl and spiral around the peak of the great volcano When the melting of the six glaciers set in motionThe massive lahars, those “swift-moving currents Of hot gas аnd rock” called “pyroclastic flows.” And then there were the camera’s unblinking staresAt buildings in Armero up to their windows in mud,Medics rushing the injured on stretchers to makeshift clinics In emergency Red Cross tents, survivors trembling In fear and sorrow to see what had happened,And soldiers pulling bloated, mud-caked corpses From inundated buildings once the waters subsided. There were even interviews with several survivors Who would go on living in the nearby valley towns Of Guayabal and Lérida, in the state of Tolima, In this region of Colombia known for its coffee, Its tropical fruit, and its high-quality cotton,In the south-central section of the three cordilleras That run the length of the country, from Medellín south To Cali, then all the way down to Chile from Perú. I couldn’t stop looking for the life of me after that—Especially as I watched the story, at first in aweAnd then in tears, of Omayra Sánchez, the teenaged girl, Symbol forever after of the sorry disorganized state Of Colombia back then, trapped in rising water, Unable to budge her legs from the slab of cement That had fallen on them, speaking to that camera With an uncanny poise that I wanted to attribute To the peace of mind Colombians find in simple company. Over the course of three days, live on camera, On the evening news in Bogotá, in the presence of strangers,Rescue workers, priests, social workers, and engineers Helpless to do much of anything for her, she waitedIn vain to be freed, without even her mother, strandedIn Bogotá, or relatives drowned in the flood, there To hold her—making do with a group of strangers.All they could do, besides console her, was to help herTo tilt her head back so that she could receive, Like the wine and wafer of the sacramental host,Bits of arepa and sips of water, in a beatific twist On a baptismal religious rite, to keep her aliveWith food and encouraging talk, until, toward the end, From her darkly encircled eyes, she looked directly into The likewise encircled but unblinking eye of the camera To say farewell to her family, missing in the mudslide Or gone to Bogotá on business, and unable to return:Si escuchas, Mami—If you are listening, Mother—Te quiero. Les quiero a mi mamá y mi papá, I love you. I love my mother and father. A mis hermanos y tíos también. Que todo les vaya bien. And my siblings and aunts And uncles as well. May all go well in life for you. Y para esta gente que me ayude. And for these people Who have helped me too, yes, for them as wellA final word, in choked-up fragments, of farewell. Copyright © 2018 Scott Ruescher Scott Ruescher has been reading from his 2017 book, Waiting for the Light to Change, at various venues in the Boston area, including Gallery 263, the Somerville Armory, the Aeronaut Brewery (for Porter Square Books), the Newton Free Library, the Somerville Growing Center, the New England Poetry Club, and the Cambridge Arts River Festival. He has new work in recent issues of Solstice, About Place, and Pangyrus.