pech merle

a love song for the handprints in the Pech Merle caves pt. 1

It’s 10:42 p.m. on a park bench, the lanterns all lit up,
and I know the exact satellite-blessed time 
because my thumbs are getting cold out here, 
texting you in the buzz-flash of this little screen. 
It is too cold for mosquitoes and I am grateful, rapturous.

Sometimes I like to write poetry with time in mind,
fallen civilizations, forgotten names.
I trip over anachronisms–
the electric light on my glasses,
this phone humming in my hands. 
I feel obsolete in advance.

But we all still know the telegraph 
beat of our hearts, don’t we? And 
this was never about telegraphs. 
My love is vellum scrolls and papyrus secrets.
My love is cave paintings,
sometimes buried, sometimes lost, 
sometimes scoured down to clean stone.
It has had meaning draped over it 
by such terribly certain strangers.
It has been drawn out by more women 
than History cares to assume. 

We have been whispering in the dark all our lives,
you, me, my grandmother kissing boys in the orange groves. 
We have always lit up the dark with something. 
We have always looked for ways to close the distance. 

In a hundred years 
I will not know my name. In a thousand 
no one will. The world will molt, transform, 
bloom into something unrecognizable. 
You will not know my words, child, 
the way I do. 
Your modes, your mediums, 
all newly built; mine all dust. 
But you will still know this–
this warm bright thing in my hands,
the way someone else’s words 
(across space and time and
all these buried things) 
lights up the dark. 

—  ejl.

a love song for the handprints in the Pech Merle caves (pt. 2)

Did you know that Genghis Khan 
met a scribe and fell in love
with the way words tie things down? 
He had them draw up the laws 
of his Mongols in blue-bound books,
because blue is the color of the sky;
and to the khan of horsemen and great 
broad steppes of grass, the sky was holy.
So is the law, so are all things 
that tie man to man to man.

For every mummy, carving,
cave painting, scroll, tablet,
or footprint that we find
there are those that have been lost–
washed away, sand-scoured, 
worn-down, decomposed, 
collapsed, overwritten. 
For every story passed down,
every exquisite tomb,
there are men dead unsung,
paupers’ graves,
lovers unrecorded 
whose lovers are unrecorded 
whose children are unrecorded
but not unmourned.

Wrap things in sky, because everything you love 
should be as watched over 
as the rolls and rolls of grassy earth. 
Press your hand up against the cave wall,
dripping, and leave a mark. 
Wait for the storms to come, 
the earthquakes and the burrowing things. 
Wait to be lost, and press your hand up, 
watch the color dry. 
No matter what will come, 
unmade or not, found or forgotten,
listen to the silence tell you:
this is yours, here, now, forever.

—  ejl.