Ianua: 19 September, 2016

Submerging below the fields’ thin rind
of grass and dirt, the inclined walkway funnels
us into and through that liminal territory
where the maidenhair and hart’s-tongue
and even the saturated
flannels of the mosses, under pressure
from ascending darkness, surrender
and return the limestone to itself,
and we arrive at the edge
of the original entrance—in the light
of our torches a font of water so utterly
untroubled the mind at first perceives it
as a continuance of air; and I glimpse
far back in the clearness, the black
tight gullet of the flooded tunnel.
Midweek.  Off-season.  I have the guide
to myself.  But she’s too chatty, flicking
on spotlights and prattling on
about flowstone and draperies.  Pool spars.
Cave pearls.  We have entered the earth
without dying.  We are walking into
the open heart of the rock.  So many
words coming out of her mouth and dropping
blandly without echo until she ceases
her banter and snaps off the spotlights
and I hear, far off,
the massive sweating of stone—evidence
of rain let slowly go—and my eyes
feel strangely opened
beneath the roof of the lightless world.
Later, when I walk out, nothing
will be different and everything
will have changed—the clouds long ago
moved over and the blackbird’s cleated call
catching, still, on the air,
although the bird itself will be hidden
in a new neighbourhood deep in the hedge.

But for now, in silence, in a clot of torchlight,
we are following the meandering
ribbon of concrete, we are labouring
deeper, and the heart, believing
it will find what it came for, is one
step ahead of reason and ready
to cross the threshold until, after weaving
through the Cathedral and the Crystal Chamber,
after rounding a sudden blind corner
just beyond the opaque pillar
of the limestone Madonna—after coming so far
through the hard skirts of the Earth—
we are brought up short by the strung
barrier of a chain link fence.  Above us,

the long memory of the green world.
In which the living wake every day
and go nowhere, returning
to the lives they are given.  In which the dead
shunt forwards into history.  Around us
the deep, unbound pieces of the Earth
for a while holding still.  Beyond the net
of the fence, where the bolus of the torch beam
widens and bleeds out, darkness is a door
standing ajar.  And from this point on, the way
unexplored, uncharted, unlit.  And every
road, every path, every turn

I take leads here.  And yet why am I here,
father, if I cannot enter?


First published in The Briar Cliff Review, Volume 29, 2017