Buck Helm was one of those trapped on the bridge that collapsed along Interstate 880 during the October 21, 1989 earthquake. He died shortly after a dramatic rescue. The poem is a tribute to him and the others caught in the San Francisco earthquake.

The Ballad of Buck Helm

San Francisco is so sublime

Though it lies along the fault line

And someday it is said that it will fall into the sea
But the buildings keep going up

While the scientist keeps guessing

Telling people to be vigilant

The earthquake is a threat

And society can make a face

When the ground starts to shake and makes them in

But there was one that beat the odds

And stayed alive to fool the gods

Or the devil or who waits for a soul

We went one day not long ago

The scientist said I told you so

When the earth began to shake and break in

The bay bridge shook and collapsed

The Golden Gate somehow held its own

But Highway 880 was cursed with affliction

Buck had spent a ride on the BART

Because the series was about to begin

And I headed south on Highway 880 at five

At five o’clock the bridge fell

Must have made a horrible sound

With concrete slabs and pillars flying from side to side

Journalist Dan came in at the beginning

The craving signals a great thirst

And I told the nation that 1989 is the only one

The walls had collapsed like sticks

Same as nineteen hundred and six

Leaving thousands with no home and no place to go

The firefighters ran to get their trucks

Congress rushed to get some money

It would take ten billion dollars to make amends

But first there are lives to find and save

Buck was somewhere brave

And no one knew his whereabouts and work was slow

Now in a New York City apartment

Buck’s ex-wife, long gone

I heard the news and rushed to save what was left

Maybe insurance was the reason

Call it love or what’s in season

Place your bet and stack the chips, it’s just dough

Now where did he eat his buttered pancakes

His friends just stared and murmured

If there is one to escape from the grave it is our friend Buck

Families cried and stayed close

Pasters prayed and wondered why

But the life expectancy between the concrete piers was low

As the hours turned damp and gloomy

A lonely volunteer, though weary

I stayed to look for a space so far back in the ruins.

At first he saw a protruding head

Then at last, a hand extruding

Lucky Bucky, as his friends called him, was saved

Back at work, his friends were depressed

Then the news a joyful sound

Buck had asked the man upstairs to skip his turn

The pier broke into tears

It could have been a million years

When four days later he went out to put on his show

Lucky Bucky greets slowly

To the crowd that only gathered

Just to see the man who made the news headlines

And his ex wife is now in town

She is so easy to find

With your tears and ears and fears

She is all a blaze

Now the stroy has an ending

Buck is slowly recovering

And the radios are playing their song

Here is a man unknown until now

Although he is an American and how

He is the hero of the people who need him

San Francisco is so sublime

Though it lies along the fault line

And someday it is said that it will fall into the sea

But the buildings keep going up

As the scientist keeps guessing

Telling people to stay alert

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