September 2012

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

listen to this poem
 
After Werner Herzog

 

They’re instructed to stay on the walkway.

In hardhats and sterile shoe covers, they’re

time-travelers, like the hunter in the story.

He traveled sixty-eight million years

to stalk Tyrannosaurus rex,

then stepped off the path, crushed

a butterfly, deranged the future.

This group journeys merely to the Ice Age,

say thirty thousand years ago,

down into a vaulted cave that no one

may have seen in twenty thousand.

The only animals here are the ones

painted on the walls they’ve come to see

and the few whose skeletal remains

they must take care not to trample.

 

It’s a small party with a small camera

and smaller lights, in France to transform

the art of yesteryear into today’s.

Thirty thousand years ago a person

or persons painted hundreds

of horses, mammoths, cave bears,

rhinoceroses, maybe even butterflies,

working beyond the reach of sun

in sacred darkness lit by torches.

Twenty thousand years ago

rockfall sealed time’s capsule

and preserved Earth’s earliest art.

 

The awestruck director who narrates

the journey is German; the savants who

explain it in his film are mainly French.

They lecture in a Babel of accented

English or in translation. But down in

the dark, the silent paintings speak a tongue

that almost anyone can understand.