Cave of Forgotten Dreams
listen to this poem
After Werner Herzog
They’re instructed to stay on the walkway.
In hardhats and sterile shoe covers, they’re
time-travelers, like the hunter in the story.
He traveled sixty-eight million years
to stalk Tyrannosaurus rex,
then stepped off the path, crushed
a butterfly, deranged the future.
This group journeys merely to the Ice Age,
say thirty thousand years ago,
down into a vaulted cave that no one
may have seen in twenty thousand.
The only animals here are the ones
painted on the walls they’ve come to see
and the few whose skeletal remains
they must take care not to trample.
It’s a small party with a small camera
and smaller lights, in France to transform
the art of yesteryear into today’s.
Thirty thousand years ago a person
or persons painted hundreds
of horses, mammoths, cave bears,
rhinoceroses, maybe even butterflies,
working beyond the reach of sun
in sacred darkness lit by torches.
Twenty thousand years ago
rockfall sealed time’s capsule
and preserved Earth’s earliest art.
The awestruck director who narrates
the journey is German; the savants who
explain it in his film are mainly French.
They lecture in a Babel of accented
English or in translation. But down in
the dark, the silent paintings speak a tongue
that almost anyone can understand.