The Cave

By David Gullette

Coming back from Escamequita past the curve at the peak
there was the valley of Carrizal with its steep mountain rising above it.

What’s that up there? I asked. Looks like the entrance to a mine.
Oh, the old man said, That’s the Cueva de los Duendes.

I knew the word from Lorca’s great essay
but he meant some dark flamenco trance when strummed sheepguts
and a shout beyond reason jam in our ears the mesmerizing song of death.

Here in the back woods of Nicaragua it just means little people,
fairies, minor local deities, trolls, semi-domesticated goblins.
Or witches. Things that rustle the bushes after the moon rises
or borrowing feathers shriek in the sky above your chickens.

Why do I feel this perverse relief that something remains here
to challenge the cult of the soft Galilean and his stay-at-home Mom?
Some trace of the pre-Columbian, or something from the hills and caves
of Spain, smuggled in with the priests and horses?

Once I was in Yucatan: An afternoon storm was brewing
and when the thunder shook the limestone world
the Mayan lady at the kiosk looked up and said “Xac!”
The old god of lightning, rain, and fertility.

Remember how Wallace Stevens’ Crispin, hearing
a rumbling west of Mexico fled, and knelt in the cathedral
with the rest? The thunder unleashed a self possessing him,
some quintessential fact that was, he says, not in him in Connecticut.

My idle thought passing through Carrizal was to find a way to climb the hill,
enter the giant portal of the cave, probe the interior with my LED.
But “to know a thing is to kill it,” says Lawrence,
and I’m too old to court more disenchantment,

so back to town: a little rum, check the banality of the Internet,
news of winter’s vacancy back in Boston, a little European music
to sprinkle on the sizzling red snapper . . . How easy to live it,
this our minimal unhaunted twenty-first-century life.


David Gullette is Professor Emeritus of English at Simmons College in Boston, a founding editor of Ploughshares and currently Literary Director of the Poets’ Theatre, which produced his stage adaptation of Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf in December 2015 and will do so again in December 2016. He is coordinating a “U.S.-Cuba Poetry Fiesta” in Havana, May 2017. His book of poems, Questionable Shapes, was published by Cervena Barva Press in September 2016.

Originally appeared in NOR 20.

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