David Martin

Karst

We skirt the bone pit, descend into cave.

I hook carabiners to bolted rope
and brace for night.

Rats catnap in their radiant
fungus nest.

Headlamps sabre the black:
furious motes, smuggled light.

~

Reverse crab-walk through
muck-lacquered tunnels
gouged by interglacial soda.

Moonmilk curdles
on basement walls:
smear it to lull
your bright wounds.

I flex the line’s angle against anchor,
body-bulk equilateral then scalene.

Bacon columns recite a telegram
of unseen terrain.

My wife scrabbles at front,
guide and others trailing.

~

Another group slips by, our beams
sparring on scallops;
their faces avens on a wet, scree trail.

Snake the floor to thrutch a squeeze.
Bow head, humiliate shoulder.

At shaft-ditch, I coil onto back,
heel driving while sediments flake my face.

A wolf roamed two kilometres
within these alleys,
laying low to disown breath.

Wedge into the envelope room,

distrustful how body tenders
itself to rock.

~

Rest on bed’s thread
and kill the light.

Flowstone accretes by drip, flam, pause.

Utter dark.
Half a click beneath the mouth,
no photon risks it.
Soiled sight.

Flutter sandpaper gloves before eyes
and mind panders to me,
concocts a should-be show.

After two hours, fallow thought
would fire up visions of rescuers,
glow-worm headlamps.

My brothers grin from a foothold,
unwinding dental floss to piper me from Minotaurs.
Grandparents semaphore futures,
lullaby to unlock diurnal fetters,
and trick up a subterranean torrent to replay cave birth.

Mountains mask change
in deference to brittle symbols.

Buoyed past are my kids giggling in reverb loops,
confettied clouds of books I meant to read,
trombone doodle-tonguing as it suffocates,
1983 Chevrolet Caprice with seats summer-seared,
vomit strings from the same family ride,
Marsha’s thumb marrying mine through the Ogham stone,
the six feet of unconsolidated overburden
clay silt till gravel soil that will appraise my hull.

Cerberus keeps his scrimmage-sense keen.

~

The guide awakens his light

and we renew our climb.

Cave pearls hoard lustre
in refracted closets.

Last ascent, handhold nicks
in the carbonate’s slick flanks.

Shoals and skeletons red-rover
from lithic prisons
as my cheek hews close,
and ropes cock tendon-slants.

Soda-straw stalactites spitballing.

Return to the entry
and rouse
day’s wheel-light.

Tonight, down again in sleep:
glacial outwash
mines through head.
Lap the moon’s milk.
Salute luminescent rats.
Haggle with femur, ribs.

Let body assume
its container: air, water, rock.


David Martin works as a literacy instructor in Calgary. His first collection, Tar Swan (NeWest Press, 2018) was a finalist for the Raymond Souster Award and the City of Calgary W. O. Mitchell Book Prize. David’s work was awarded the CBC Poetry Prize in 2014.