May 19, 2022



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!