Grotto of Mas D’Azil (1)

They worked in icy endless caves of night,
caves shaped by floods through year on ageless year,
leaving the sunlit earth to crawl through dark
and terrifying space, a tallow light
their only guide, and by this flame
the paintings lit, the rough stone wall alive.

These painters may have thought the beasts alive,
the mammoths, horses, creatures of the night,
the pulsing painted lines, the flickering flame,
the artist working blindly year on year.
He wrought remembrance in his art, the light
above reflected in the threatening dark.

Pebbles lie beneath the paintings, dark
conceals the carving, horses seem alive.
And on the reindeer horn, picked out by light,
the muzzle, nostrils, eye and ear. The night
abounds in mysteries, wipes away the years.
They leap, challenge and charge us through the flame.

We climb through tunnels with our puny flame.
They, in a shallow stone, against the dark
bore tiny fires. Was theirs a ritual year?
Did painted beasts their wild herds keep alive?
Praying in this cathedral, in this night,
as greater hunters they returned to light.

Here horses, mammoths, wondrous in our light.
Bison, long dead, transfix us, eyes aflame.
And everywhere, in palaces of night,
antelope leap and frolic in the dark.
The hunter with his bow once more alive;
the Ice Age herds live an eternal year.

Down here no changes mark the changing year.
There is no rising sun, no fading light.
But on the walls the bison is alive,
the massive hump is sculpted by the flame,
racing animals stretch into the dark,
the hunt is all around us in the night.

Years fall away, here in this ancient night.
Light falls on mammoth monstrous bones. The dark’s
alive, the horses gallop in the flame.

Grotto of Mas D’Azil (2)

The horses’ heads amaze the most,
appearing on pebbles, finely cut.
On reindeer horn the natural form
shapes ears and nostrils, muzzle and eye.

They worked in icy deep dark caves,
caves marked by scouring floods.
We climb through tunnels with the roar
of torrents echoing off the dripping walls.

And find in hidden hollowed space
the bears have left their sculpted nests,
the mammoths left their monstrous bones.

Lari Smith

[France, the Pyrenee, the prehistoric cave paintings]