The Lovers of Speleology

by Stephanie Warner

Stephanie Warner graduated at the top of her department with an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia. Her poetry has recently appeared in EVENT, Descant, Arc, This Magazine, The Malahat Review, and Prairie Fire, as well as being long-listed for the Montreal International Poetry Prize. Her first collection of poetry is forthcoming with Fitzhenry & Whiteside in the spring of 2017. She currently resides in Barcelona with an Englishman and neurotic tabby cat.

The cavity unit surprises the visitor 1
by the wide variety of its underground

landscapes heirloom oil-burning lamps
the silkscreen of the conquistador, silver fish

in their silent ministrations, shoe-horned
into your parent’s basement at the moment

of the meeting of two masses, your father not
mellowed, just more so. 6 a.m. showers to blasted

Credence Clearwater Revival, makeshift
plywood on hinges between your bedroom

and the bathroom is not a door
nor a median, water engulfed through

these cracks and diacleses, & his invective
bowling-ball flung, turkey after turkey

meets the épée of your darting sarcasm
the valleys were gradually deepened

while a UFO glides in your mother’s breast—
mysterious symbols like rosettes, pentacles

chrisms. In Shotgun Willy’s refuge of the tracked
the framed photographs of every Ms. Columbia Valley

circa 1939 who acted on the imaginations
of men and left none indifferent, a study

in the graduation of sun-damage: ‘39 through ‘48
reveal their beauty obscurely, in cuneiform, wedge

of shadow under lip, hair nothing more
than vapour plumed on glass, crystals of sinus,

gypsum, pearls of caves, and pint after pint

of that watery draft. A baby smiles more
at a symmetrical face, but can love a towel draped

over a mechanical arm. Cut from the same cloth
scrapers, polishing machines, etc, Doukhobor stock

their bird-bone churches floating in woods of birch,
singing as they scythed tracts into the Canadian shield.

At the time of the Wars of Religion—yes, they were onto
something. Now observe your 16-year-old self

in a bad way, vodka-tumbled through the pogoing sloe
of the ‘kids these days,’ your bruises linked

in defiant archipelago. Knocked-up, you elected
to be knocked around, far in the cavity and many

bones. The granolas had potions for everything:
clary sage for the cramps, passion flower for the grief—

your secret, under the effect of glaciers—but when
did your parents get so old? How did it last this long?

Father’s diatribes: cronyism, Canadian hockey goons,
bleeding heart feminazis, mother’s evening-long baths

the tomb of the goddess who bore a snake, Pyreene—
a frightful balance. In the basement with its doily-draped TVs

brass pheasants, beer-crate bolstered ancient
futon, your mother’s tissue smeared between

slides in Calgary, you submit yourself
to the wait, to all lovers of speleology. In your dream

the TV picture screwing shut, that final silver
fading eye, through which several hundred deeper caves

with mammoth dimensions, such as the cathedral,
equivalent in volume to the Notre Dame in Paris—

the screen shatters. You crawl inside.

 

  1. The italicized text is lifted from a brochure explaining the Lombrives cave network in France.

Stephanie Warner graduated at the top of her department with an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia. Her poetry has recently appeared in EVENT, Descant, Arc, This Magazine, The Malahat Review, and Prairie Fire, as well as being long-listed for the Montreal International Poetry Prize. Her first collection of poetry is forthcoming with Fitzhenry & Whiteside in the spring of 2017. She currently resides in Barcelona with an Englishman and neurotic tabby cat.

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