Touching the dark
We have followed the stream
underground, veered from it
into a pocket of silence. Our guide
says there are lessons for the ears.
“Turn off your lights”: he’s gentle with us,
hauling to our notice
camcorders, cameras, phones.
He ferries us into the dark.
More silence. But broken:
the fat “puk” of a drop that has soaked
three days through soil, to stone, to air again,
pooling in the black. Again,
“Tok” … “Tok-spa” … “puk”
Our tiny ears
to the size of caves.
There’s a girl with us, she’s 6 or 7.
“It’s so dark”, she says.
She could be any one of us.
The comic: “Last time I’s this blind
was 1979”. The chuckle
sparks and dies like a Roman candle.
Our guide says if we know each other
we should hold hands.
It’s as if there is no ground.
Our feet are floating. We have no idea
about our arms – how long they are,
or where they are heading.
I have come alone.
I place my hand what I imagine
to be a half metre from my eyes.
My palm, I pretend, is facing me.
I dream I am moving the hand
closer – the thumb is wiggling.
“Please”, it’s the tremor we all mouth
blooming early, coming from nowhere,
“I need light”.
And a younger voice: “On”, he says, “On!”
like a harp, the harp in all of us,
the stone’s slow fingers in his strings.
The cave lights return.
We re-materialise. The stone
the echoes of our black words
crumble on our clothes, our hair,
our faces. Our guide
tells of the hours
he has spent like this. In the dark,
just listening. I think of it –
how I’d breathe,
how I’d move, carefully, to not touch
my own sides, my own limbs, to not learn
how to measure. “Tok-puk”!
Until it pulls with its own gravity.
Now. And now… Drifting…
Still, the silence, the romance,
black air, the travel
of water, is outweighed
by this: what we have had,
the voices, rolled out like food
into each other’s palms.
In the dark,
minds and bones lose their borders
and we are years and timbres
tangled on the same tongue,
held by the same weather.
I would have this.
The stillness, or the deep shadow here,
unpins us, unpins, too, the stone walls,
the pools. You remove distance
by turning off the eyes.
We have not become each other.
But for a moment
the same air was in our lungs,
we were touch in the soft rubbings of our cells,
on the underside of our names.
Like peeling back an edge, peering
at what belongs to all of us.
And is it different, you ask,
in the cave of our curved sky?
Beyond stone, can we learn to listen,
to carry each other, while the sun
threads through us, and the bird
at our shoulder startles us
with its feathers, and the air
fills our need… How to hear
the pulse we are held by
in this green place…
In our garb of words. Look,
use my lips, my tongue…
How closely we are woven.
I do not know you.
I do not see what you see.
But do not forget me.
In our chests, our own small caverns,
all of us,
stretching into the dark.
Fluting the Dark: words for the underground
In the dark
the body is almost
Small sounds skim the silence.
The black is at home here.
Air is not air but a store of shadow.
Breathing darkens the bones.
some of the dimples
in the dusty ground
are not empty
I would like to cradle
the abyssal hole where he has stretched
his cobweb in the cup
of my two hands,
his pinpoint of white
deafened in the giant rage
of my heat, his pulse
Notice when you leave
how the greens burrow deeper into your skin,
as if in the dark you have learned
that flesh, like the tongue, like the soul,
is porous. An etching of trees. The sky
spilling through the chinks and chambers
of your tunnelling. You are