Flow in Flow out Baby’s breath, Moss Lung, cling to the mouth of the cave, Rustled by her breath, soothed by her voice They are safe here Cool, clear water, winds down her throat Runs loving hands over slate flesh Carves his own place in coal skin Cradles silver, quartz, gold heart Makes bones and empires out of limestone He makes her as much as she makes him Grey flashes in the dim light Here too is crawdad, cave spider, bat minder They are all safe here Flow in Flow out Then, there is man Tired and alone Hurt and afraid Cave whispers to him as she has whispered to deer, to rabbit, to wayward bear cub Flow in Flow out You are safe here He washes his wounds in clearest water And lays his head on softest moss Cave watches over him as man rests Whispers her promise, her prayer Flow in Flow out You are safe here Man leaves and Man returns With pickaxe and muddy boots Cave greets him with her promise, with her prayer but he Blinds her with kerosene lantern Deafens her with dynamite Scorches silvery grey black with gunpowder He makes war of their peace, of their safety Muddies clear water Scratches the coal from her skin, Tears her heart in two, breaks it into a million pieces Tramples crawdad, cave spider, Baby’s Breath, Moss Lung Takes snare and net to gentle bat minder Takes her heart, her friends Leaves only mud and clay and smoke Run, cave whispers, You are not safe here Slimy, oily hands Find stalactite, stalagmite, Column, miracle, empire Swirls of chemicals clash with the freshest water, the most concentrated salt, the purest minerals And they erode centuries of loving, slow, gentle work One passing palm-touch at a time they, Flow in Flow out They take and they take and they take Without second-thought, without knowing They take Her heart, her mind, her voice, her beauty They do not even leave her her bones Bat minder watches Clings to the last stalactite in the broken halls of a defeated mountain queen She watches As she has watched generations of pups Carefully, closely The humans are not all that different Tripping, falling, whirling, bumping, crashing into wall and stone Laughing, ignorant in their harm, Or perhaps too childish to care She watches as they fell sister, cousin, niece, daughter They wear away their home with Burning light, acid touch, sonic boom A war that rattles her brain and clouds her sight So bat listens to cave, she Flows out And sends back in, Only the gentlest of prayers for her oldest friend Rattle Crash Boom Shout Silence Coughing, wheezing Sickly brook struggles to babble, pushes against sludge and dust and rock pile Rattle Crash Boom Silence Cave thinks the silence is the worst She has gotten used to Rattle Crash Boom But the silence makes her heart hurt Gone is The chirping of bats And the clicking of crawdad hands, the singing of cave crickets River’s echoing voice Wind’s wise song Rattle Crash Boom Silence An old friend’s prayer Flow in Flow out Cave cannot do this anymore Rattle Crash Boom Silence She is old and worn, sick and alone, tired and afraid Rattle Crash Boom Silence So cave bends and cave lets go Rattle Crash Boom Break Her bones snap in two And the mountain comes down on their heads She is no longer shelter, home, cradle, den, safe-within Now she is grave No in No out Just silence Oh… what they have made of her
This piece comes out of 2021 National Writing Day, and is also partially inspired by Write Out 2021. Indiana/Kentucky is home to many beautiful caves. Most famous is the nearby Mammoth Cave. However, I grew up looking into caves just big enough for me to shimmy into if I laid on my stomach. Caves are often thematically connected with mystery, and I have always felt drawn to these natural wonders. There is no quiet awe like that of peering into a cool cave spring, stalactites reflected in the barely-there glow of a dying flashlight.I enjoyed writing this poem. Let me know what you think!