Sherod Santos

1948 / Greenville, South Carolina

Fermanagh Cave

An emerald dungeon's blacklight glow
glimmered in the deeper reaches
where my son and I could hear the slub
of water riddling through the muck.

We'd stumbled on it following a stream,
his first cave made stranger still
by a chill that closes on the goblined heart
of a boy inflamed by stories where

gnome-clans hoarded underground
bone-shard, mandrake, monkey gland,
and eel. And so, grave Hansel
paying out his last scraps of bread,

he inched inward looking back
and gathering himself as he devolved
step by step along the wet-ribbed walls,
the omphalos seepage of a subterranea

that dreamed us into its kingdom come,
where like some secret dreams
make known the burnt-punk smell
of marijuana cluttered up the air,

and just beyond, just close enough to see,
a spur of light that like a dwindling
eyemote disappeared. Then the sound
a human soul makes as it slips out

from the throat. Composed in darkness,
my son's hand closed on mine. I bent
to whisper we could turn back now,
but his voice was there before me saying,

"Something's here." And something was,
something that in that instant rose,
and moved off from us, or drew up close.
In either case, my son came to me

almost weightlessly at first, then hungry
for what was filling up my arms,
the startled, upriding bodyweight
of a boy I'd never before felt rock

so solidly into the place I was,
blind and hunkered in the earthen air.
I held him only a moment there.
We didn't speak. And though the wheeze

of his breathing must've stopped my ears,
for weeks to come, settling him back
to sleep at night, or waking him
from some troubling dream, I'd hear

the soft concussion of an outsized heart-
beat I could not decide was mine,
or his, or the stranger's I had brought us to.
Or if what happened would happen again,

years from now, when he is grown,
and I have grown newly strange to him.
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