(Lascaux, 16,000 BCE)
We enter the cave at sunrise by torchlight,
Casting wild shadows as we descend
The sloping shaft to reach the hidden site,
A long cave painted past the trail’s first bend
With horses, deer, and great bulls in full stride,
Racing headlong toward an unseen end
In two crowded rows on either side.
We slow and pass between without a word,
And hold our torches high and wave them wide;
It is the vision of the running herd,
Painted in the past, over the course
Of the many seasons it recurred.
We are affected by its grace and force,
And want to linger for a longer view,
But our vision is of the red horse
So we continue onward, crouching through
A dwindling passage to emerge inside
A new cave sparsely painted with a few
Rough horse scenes. We gather and decide
Which sections we will paint, then separate
To prepare our lamps and tools beside
Our scattered places. I trim my lamp and grate
Colored pigment stones and mix the flakes
With the melted fat. I concentrate
On these small tasks, and the deep silence makes
My thoughts and spirit stray and lose their way
Until a sudden rush of hoofbeats breaks
That silence, and in strange light, unlike day,
The red horse comes to where I sit, alone.
He looks straight through me, and his glance conveys
A fleeting scene of motion, breath, and bone.
And then he rears and gallops out of sight,
And as he vanishes I touch paint to stone.