Spelunking ~ David O’Connell

This was off some tributary

of a dirt road, a day excursion,

nine of us and the driver

before a gash in the earth

covered up by brush,

so I never would have seen it,

couldn’t find it again.

Hunched before its mouth,

we listened as our guide said

dangerous, hard hats,

head lamps, stick together

because it could take days

to find you. Of course bats,

so guano, and tight spots

you’ll wriggle through.

It will be colder than July.

At times, the ceiling drops.

In, I considered the weight

of rock and dirt, the sunlit

trees leafing on top of me,

their long roots digging

down to me. I thought of this

often. Thought better of being

ass and elbows underground.

Then disconcerting beauty

everywhere. Unnumbered

stalactites and stalagmites:

horns, fangs, tapers, fingers

all dripping like faucets

in the night. It’s water

on limestone over centuries

that made this, he said,

pausing in a cavern so large

our lamps, like our voices,

faded. Tired, mud caked,

each of us, at his insistence,

put a hand before our face,

and killed the lights. Dark

bit down, swallowed wholly,

and I was back in that motel

off the interstate, shocked awake,

fumbling for a bedside lamp

that wasn’t there, that was

across town where you were

or were not sleeping. I swear

that I smelled disinfectant

in the air, that I heard an A.C.

wheezing. And in that moment,

crouched under earth, failing

to stare my hand into being,

I felt all over what you said

when I left, how our years

together were no time at all.