The image makers,
enter the hill and long passage inward.
They bear torches soaked in beeswax
and pine resin, tallow lamps lit with the wicks
of dried whitewood and juniper twigs.
Since waking to read their dreams as spoor,
these creators have bowed before
lichen-browsing bison; solitary cave
and brown bear; the arc-tusked mammoth,
snow-lashed musk-oxen; herds of reindeer
swimming summer rivers, grazers of beechnuts,
moss, and mushrooms; the skittish and serene,
the rut-singers, these potent and dangerous kin.
Those most skilled in shaping stone etch images
with the careful blows of burins, the smoke of rock dust
drifting up in miniature bursts through torchlight.
The painters of dream evoke beasts out of the black
of bone charcoal and manganese, the white clay,
shading the belly-hollows with shadow, raw sienna
and umber. Already alchemists, some heat yellow
ochre in fire to summon the cardinal hues of blood
and grind pigments to powder, blending paints
from quartz, talc, pigment, cave water, and gypsum
to spread on palettes of vertebrae and oyster shell; colors
worked into walls that arc high into domed sanctuaries.
Our ancestors wear necklaces strung from the incisors
of wild, fat-bellied ponies, whose bone cores drip
sweet marrow. Pale yellow stallions and mares,
with hides dappled an Isabella-blue, feed the lamps
a clear-burning fat; give thread
from their stiff, jet manes—hair plaited into cords
to bind the artists’ high scaffolds. A day's work,
a week's—time suspends at the shivering
boundary between flame-light and ricocheting shadow.
As if the stone writhed, drew breath, and shook off
long hibernation—bison (like flames shuddering),
falling horses, and a great black leaping bull.
Once sanctified, what music must have risen from this hall
of flint and limestone: diatonic bone flute, oak
handle rapped on resonant calcite drapery, xylophones
of bear skull and hip bone, bullroarers, and ocarinas
of pierced conch, joined finally by the human cry
and song: voices that reverberate, rise and speak,
make essence from imagination at that empty center:
I, clan, and the otherwise still secret earth.