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Like Memory, Caverns

ISSUE:  Summer 1991
Dry creekbeds littered with buckeyes, fallen
leaves, geodes—those stones you wrap
your hands around like ancient tools,
hold firm against a stronger rock and strike
until the round splits open, spilling dust
and bits of crystal.

                   To Rilke, perhaps,
solitude seemed a geode: that hidden
hollow where, in its slow,
unconscious time, the self could grow
and strengthen, mineral, elemental.
Think of him working, Paris, a rented room,
we are unutterably alone

Floyd Collins liked to go alone. On his belly
in a cave he felt his presence fill the space
around him, damp breath hanging
over surfaces of clay, shale, the wet mineral crusts
from water seeping deeper beneath the surface.
He could be standing dappled in Kentucky sunlight,

then step into dark, stone, distant
sound of water dripping or rushing, the way, like memory,
caverns heighten sound beyond the archetypal.
Until the day he crawled some narrow passage—
elbows and hips inching him forward,
the shallow stream washing against his chest, his legs—

When the stone fell, he could neither kick free
nor turn around. The days he lay there, feeling
his body slowly cooling in the little current,
listening. Much later, the rescue party
tried to lift the stone that pinned him,
each time failing.

There is a moment when the soul confronts its own
Once there was a man, once there was a woman:
the story repeats for us each. When he was two, my father’s
father lay awake beside his mother, knew the minute
she was no longer alive. My mother died alone—
unconscious, the doctor guesses. Who knew
what she thought or believed? Sometimes
the little triumphs gleam their pattened facets;
sometimes we panic in the dark.


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