Poem | Cave Painting

Nswatugi Cave Matobo National Park (Wikimedia Commons)

The story is not long.
The wounded animal turns
stumbling over the spears already

thrust into the red future, flint points
puncturing the dawn to come
and the end is one heartbeat, two,

no more. The land is wide and made of stone.
The horizon is unseen, but also rock. The excited,
fearful cheers, too, are grain
beside grain of limestone.
The almost sundered bison’s

forelegs are giving in with the freshly
stubborn not-yet. Not yet.
It will not be long.
But the telling.
The telling is all

the rest of the evening we know
without seeing, bay trees and streams
of jasper and jade rolled down from
the silent summit into vowels.
Ocher and charcoal
marshal the hungry, and command them

endlessly into a team, the account
never ceasing as breath never
ceases but continues
the loop in and out as long

as there is awakening,
the hunters poised
beside the handprint,
the celebrant signature blood-
telling wound that always
only begins.

Published in the January 2022 issue: 
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Michael Cadnum has published nearly forty books. His new collection of poems, The Promised Rain, is in private circulation. He lives in Albany, California.

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