Catholic Distance University

Grace

Beth Gylys

Grace…comes unbidden.
— Ralph T. Wilson

After the fight, after the air’s charge held
stiff in the car, after wrong turns, a breakfast
of hard fruit and stale pastry and arriving late,

we descended into the caves holding flashlights.
Mid-August, but cold enough for sweaters,
and damp. We walked on a surface that looked

like the surface of some moon: gray and pocked
with dips and impressions. Shoes scuffled
across the slippery stone. Now and then,

a drop of water fell from a mystery above.
Our guide, a young, blonde woman, walked
steadily in front of us without a light.

After a half an hour of up and down
and ducking through narrow passages,
we arrived in a large, open space and were told

to turn out our lights. It felt as if we stood
inside a cathedral or the grossly enlarged
chamber of a heart, the walls stretched above us,

shadowy and distant. They seemed to have a pulse.
We huddled and whispered, and even our whispers
sent echoes. An arm of light smacked the face

of the wall, landed on what looked like a talented
child’s sketches: the dark outlines of buffaloes,
ibexes and horses. Some had arrows pointing

into their sides. Our guide moved her beam
across the surface. “The drawings,” she says,
“date back to the ice age—17 thousand years.

It’s impossible to know the intent of the artists.
Perhaps these were images depicting the hunt,
or perhaps the unique quality of the cave:

its size and acoustics, had spiritual meaning.”
Some of the paintings were half washed away,
while others were made with bold fresh strokes.

The outlines of some overlapped the outlines
of others: heads or chins of buffalo invaded
the backs of horses or other buffalo. A few places,

only part of an animal showed: a section of mane
or the smooth line of a haunch. Several
of the images seemed to smile or look sad.

Simple figures, simply wrought. Why
was I weeping? We stood not speaking
for what seemed a long time, then ascended
quietly, quickly, blinking as we stepped
past post cards, coke machines, flash bulbs,
and flush toilets. A too-wide web of world.

Meanwhile, beneath our feet, animals,
rich as kept secrets, stilled in darkness.

Currently an Associate Professor at Georgia State University, Beth Gylys has published two award-winning collections of poetry: Spot in the Dark (Ohio State UP 2004) and Bodies that Hum (1999 Silverfish Review Press), and her work has appeared in many journals and magazines.

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