This was my second homework assignment from God: “Tell the lie which speaks the truth.”
Preamble: The Cavern
For the Guides of Karchner Caverns
That cruel emperor, the sun, it is a star
Men worship with obeisance from afar,
Even as they scramble, seeking
A haven from its daily, imperious decree.
Beneath the dome of the horizon
It jails a desert scourge, fit for scorpions,
Its pets, but not for men, ignoble,
And best forgotten.
In the pit of a canyon’s crack,
The river bed is a desiccated carcass,
Littered with bones.
The water ran out long ago, diverted.
It lies sequestered in some immensity
Beneath the crust and is still.
Explorers, we two
Tramp this country together.
We climb to the top of the chasm panting,
Then, cool in the blistering breeze
Which is freed from the labyrinth below,
Where it shrieks like a demon-lover.
Duplicitous, we shield our eyes
From the emperor, pretending homage,
While, with bird-like sight,
We scout for the signs of a cave.
I hold on to his leg for my life.
For seconds, he has pulled me
Through a passage that tapers,
Its ceiling pressing us down.
Arms, that could swim through earth
Until now, become constricted.
His fingers pick at a chink,
Desperate to make it wider.
The beam from the light on his head
Trembles from effort and fear.
I smell his sweat, and feel my own
Trickle in a rivulet across my face,
And down into my groin.
Momently, the opening is forced.
Dancing rocks vault across my body.
A hail of pebbles rebounds
Like ricocheting bullets,
No doubt bruising us further.
Propelling himself forward,
His foot kicks me in the face,
Knocking the light off my helmet,
And almost knocking me out.
There are stars amidst the twining veins
Of crystal and ore.
He grabs me, bracing
And embracing me, pulling us out.
Our head-lights beam into the murk,
A gleam for this reveal. We gape.
Flecks of gemstone shimmer and bedazzle.
Above, we hear the disapproving clicks
Of innumerable bats awakening.
Their black wings hover, then swoop
In a halo around us, escaping,
We know not where. We advance.
Through the creep of millennia,
Majestic but fantastical forms
Have grown from every crevice
Where seeping waters could ooze or drip.
Wild in aspect, suggesting everything,
Men name them musically to tame them.
Speleothems: stalactites and stalagmites.
Are they horrors of deformity,
Of a holiness of incipient beauty?
Only the visionary decides.
Somewhere afar, there is a tumult.
We listen to the subterranean river
Falling away, its cacophony of voices
Stepping ahead, it is I alone who kneel before
The miracle: A shallow pool reflecting stars
Like ice. Stars to govern a life?
Behind the pool, our light-beams
Spotlight the towering column
Which dwarfs every formation,
Which dwarfs the two, puny humans.
Spikes of a giant’s crown,
Turned upside down,
Are fused to the volcanic bursts
Of a geyser some gorgon cursed to stone.
Ornate and intricate beyond baroque,
The folds of its surfaces are faceted
As if they were studded with diamonds.
These blind us like a setting sun.
Behold, a seat of power
As ancient as dreams, and alive,
Still alive with dripping water and lime
My companion whispers, “A throne.”
Into the hush I question,
“What kind of monster would rule here?”
He hisses, “A Khan.” Then, he retreats,
Slowly, into shadows dimmer than doubt,
As dark as fear. He is leaving me alone,
In a place that is best forgotten.
After a meditation, I lower my light,
Shutting it off and throwing it aside.
To my delight, the cathedral is aglow
With hundreds, even thousands of stars:
Glow-worms. I sing to a hovering bat.
“A man of genius,
In a vision once I saw.
He was a wandering lad,
And on his dulcimer he played,
Singing of a paradise reborn.
Could I but revive his song,
So filled with love would I become,
That while singing loud and long,
I would name this heaven Home.
None who saw its dome dare cry,
‘Beware! Beware the stranger
Yearning for admittance.
Who is this soul? From where?’
Nor would they stay my passage.
If such as he will meet my eyes
And touch my hair,
Nay, if such a man but spake my name,
Then, I at last, may enter there.”
May 7th to June 7th, 2014,
Revision, August 21st, September 3rd, 2015
Poem: The Canyon
For L. T.
In Memory of R. S., the Lion-Hearted
“Lord we know what we are, but know not what we may be.”
Ophelia, from “Hamlet,” by William Shakespeare
Le it be written, then read:
This was a song sung from hell.
I close my eyes, and their darkling orbs
Morph into a sun. My rays beat the rock.
After a millennium, stone crumbles into soil
To nourish the seedlings and flowers.
Men almost trample them under their feet
As they step to the chasm’s edge.
There, I blind them. My binding command:
Step back. Dazed, they gaze or ramble on,
Their tread’s detritus falling to the river.
Rampant, beneath a cliff of orange
The river runs green. I strew it with stars.
A light upon the rapids, they dazzle
The drifter who has waded too far in,
And illuminate the depths for a baptism
Which is even unto death.
Knowing what he is, the drifter drinks
From his shadow, midway on the waves,
Hoping, at last, to know and to own
The self which he was always meant to be.
Swim to the pink-tinged sands of the beach,
Then fall asleep. Dreams are offerings
That please the emerging idols in the cliff,
Those statues from a temple yet to be.
Behold my canyon,
Great with the grandeur of gods.
Who am I to wreak such wonder?
Aware, by day, I stare
Into a night which only I can see,
A star strewn sky, so old,
And cold, as cold as ice to me.
August 30th to September 14th, 2014