Spelunk

Caving

Walking slow at the border of field
and wood, my foot disappears
beneath the surface, wrenched.
I hobble back to look and poke
a stick in nothingness, then tear back
clumps of sod, earth, a rock wedged in.
I hear the sound of running
water deep beneath me,
from a distant dark.

The next day, with lanterns,
jacket, helmet, and ropes, I descend
beneath the roots of swaying
sheds, beneath ghosts of rough
boots walking many years
behind steel plows, slicing skin
to the open tears of sky

that drift down into the soil, deep
into crevices, pores, sliding through
rock, oozing out to the damp ceiling
vaulted above me.  Chilled, I snap
my jacket shut, amazed at architecture
never seen by blind creatures
whose sightless eyes I sense
measuring my frame.

My ankle aches in the cool air
throbs with the insistence of one
who refuses to be dead. I walk
miles through corridors: some
open expanses, wondrous with
gargoyles, beasts and beatific
saints; others scarcely passable,
tortuous jagged walls that press
against my breath, catch upon
any loose thought or wish.

The air grows thick with heat
in lower and lower chambers.
I open my jacket, pull free,
walking lame into the earth;
shedding layers of time
in the hot reaches of past
blazing—buoyed unsteady—
giddy at the need to know.

A furnace radiates its own
light: I turn off the lantern.
Choked by loss of oxygen.
Vision blurs to eyes dried
taut and cracked. The floor
ripples beneath me—molten
rock so close. A pool before
me, a river somewhere beneath
roaring violence. My footing
breaks free, hurls

me spinning into the weightless
lava center of earth, clutching
blind for the gravity of swaying
buildings and the phantom nails
in boots that pass so far above

to pull me up from death.
I am burned clean
of fear.

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