Ron Rash

Linville Cavern

Past the tomahawks and cider,
the caged rattlesnake and postcards,
the day-glow bumper stickers
that would trail us home,
my father and I trailed a voice:
the others unwilling to wander
the bat and salamandered dark.

I was fourteen, almost as tall as my father,
old enough to know his life
had swerved to some bleak reckoning.

A handful of light
led us down the damp stairs,
the real light collapsing above,
deeper still Christmas lights
veining the cave sides, illuminating
nothing but the way.

“We’re almost there,” the guide assured.
Then we were: the stalactites like roots
anchored in air, the trout
pale and blind, quivering
in the bottomless pool.

Our guide clicked off the stringed lights.
“For the first time in your life,”
he drawled, “you are in complete
and total darkness.” I reached out,
but could not find my father’s hand.