by Kathryn Kirkpatrick
Why do I stand unmoved,
jaded as a tabloid, refusing
astonishment, not down on
my knees, but sober as stone—
surely 19th-century spelunkers,
pranksters, or WWII resistance
fighters passing hours in the belly
of the mountain made these
bison, these bearded horses.
But carbon dating brings me
to my senses. Whatever I can’t take
in—1,500 generations, 32,000 years—
here’s human memory on the horns
of an ibex, our ancestors making it up
Is it all too near
to where I’ve been? Birth & Death.
Back and forth across that stuttering
line, illness a long darkness with only
a lantern and my love’s strong
arm, the uneven, the unearthly
Stalactites make their own
sense of water and limestone
as I’m to make something wholly new
from the dripstone of another life.
Just as well we’re not as firmly
anchored as we think.
In the thinned air, the wavering light,
easier to find that other self,
that knows as the animal
knows, as the bears in these caves
once knew, the first scratches on stone
their marks, beyond light, standing
upright on the old riverbed, so that
daughters of Adam, sons of Eve,
took up what the bears laid down,
dark claw on limestone, and drew.