Descent

Into an area of stalactites where children venture rashly

and silica glints above the eyeless fish in their pools

lead me who am equally lost, equally in peril.

I miss the stars. This stone warren, lovely in torchlight,

has nowhere for a horizon. Slow, cold, the stone orchards

swell with petrified fruit, the narrow fields grow rough with stone barley.

I knock my head against hanging columns

or stumble blindly along a mineral world.

The roof here is beyond the reach of your lamp.

We have threaded the twists and turns for so long

I cannot point back to the entrance. There's been no north,

only the shuffle sideways up an uneven ledge

or the crawl down slippery tunnels which join two echoing spaces.

When we stand silent there is the drip of water,

the faintest whisper of a distant stir of air.

Don't turn off the torch again. That utter blackness

squeezed against the eyeballs puts the mind out

and a man's dissolved to terror, bone and skin are shadow,

black blood pounds in the veins, the breath you gulp is black.

Why have you brought me here? Where are you taking me?

There is no end to these paths through cold limestone.

In such deep caverns even the ghosts are dead. 


from A Puzzling Harvest: Collected Poems 1955-2000 (Anvil Press Poetry, 2002), © Harry Guest, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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