Cavern and Canyon

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

Prophesying war.


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?

I laugh.

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









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