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

Coughing, wheezing
Sickly brook struggles to babble, pushes against sludge and dust and rock pile
Cave thinks the silence is the worst
She has gotten used to 
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
An old friend’s prayer
Flow in
Flow out 

Cave cannot do this anymore
She is old and worn, sick and alone, tired and afraid
So cave bends and 
cave lets go
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

Author’s Note

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!
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December 10, 2021 5:58 pm

My favorite part of the poem was using other objects to describe another. Using descriptive words to convey a very clear image on what you want the reader to picture is very impressive.

December 10, 2021 5:50 pm

Your poem is very inspirational. While reading I my mind was getting lost in your language and imagery. The description that you used is amazing and keeps the reader’s attention. Nice work keep up the good work.

December 10, 2021 5:49 pm

This is an amazing poem! The way you described the physical feelings of her hands was really intriguing and it made me actually feel as if I was inside the poem. I love the words towards the end of the poem that describe the sounds you hear.

December 10, 2021 5:49 pm

This is an amazing poem! The way you described the physical feelings of her hands was really intriguing and it made me actually feel as if I was inside the poem. I love the words towards the end of the poem that describe the sounds you hear.

December 10, 2021 5:43 pm

This poem is incredible. The use of repetition and the structure of the poem make it easy to read, and it drew me in immediately. I feel like the use of different characters and perspectives makes it so much easier to read and go through.

Kevin Hodgson
Kevin Hodgson
October 29, 2021 10:42 pm

I enjoyed your poem with its sense of place and voice, Ella.
This line resonated with me when I read your poem this morning and then again tonight:

River’s echoing voice

Might I craft a poem back to you, as token of gratitude for writing and for sharing?

Nearly forever listening,
we’re always hearing a voice
of this river, the flow
below ground, the unfolding
sound of erosion and reaction,
the timbre of melody
of friction on stone,
the thoughts of a poet,
nearly, but not always,
written alone

Best wishes — keep on writing!

Kevin Hodgson
Grade 6 Teacher
Southampton, Massachusetts

Reply to  Kevin Hodgson
November 1, 2021 12:15 am

Hi Kevin,
Thanks for this echoing poem! You’ve both captured how nature puts us in touch with something beyond.
Another thought, different perhaps, that comes to mind is John Cage’s notion that he wanted to write music that did not interrupt the other sounds in our life. This is also something that Brian Eno has been up to with ambient music.
Anyway, I drift…
Thanks for the connection!

October 29, 2021 10:01 am

Cool. My wife is a ranger and cave guide at Mammoth Cave NP. I sent this to her. Love your luxurious use of repetition throughout the poem. I hope you keep writing and sharing your unique voice.

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