Entering the Cave at Luray

      First the guide
      led us by flashlight
      holding the beam
      above our heads
      and when we stopped
      in a circle somewhere
      at the basin
      where the ceiling
      went up a hundred feet
      he doused the light
      and now in darkness
      so total as to bring
      one child to tears
      my father’s voice
      spoke to me over
      my right shoulder.
      What’s that on your
      shoulder he said
      making the shape
      of a spider with his
      hand, which caused
      me to shout and the child
      to cry harder. I was
      an older boy but
      still afraid and more
      afraid to show him.
      When we were
      the same body
      he drank long beers
      called Schmidts
      after his shift at French’s,
      when one summer weekend
      he stole a relay switch
      to stop the belts, winning
      the strike. The relay
      in his pocket
      like a tiny Eagle
      approaching the moon,
      separate from its source,
      and from its destination,
      as my father took drink
      after drink. The cave
      was dripping I thought
      from the great spigot
      of beginnings when
      our guide clicked
      back on his light. There
      is torture here, but really
      there’s no death, said Virgil
      to Dante in the poem
      I had not yet read.
      Nearby but in a deeper pool
      of dark we heard
      gone on ahead of us
      the voices of more children
      who were singing as they climbed.

David Keplinger is the author of five collections of poetry, including the forthcoming Another City (Milkweed, 2018), The Most Natural Thing (New Issues, 2013), and The Prayers of Others (2006). He has been awarded the T.S. Eliot Prize, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Colorado Book Award, the Cavafy Prize, and other honors. He has also published three volumes of translations, most recently The Art of Topiary (from the German poet Jan Wagner), and House Inspections (from the Danish poet Carsten Rene Nielsen).