Sharon Metzler Dow is a Leakey Foundation Fellow. She traveled to France with The Leakey Foundation and wrote this poem inspired by her experiences on the trip. Read about this trip in Sharal Camisa’s Director’s Diary post.
Beyond the Cave Wall
Into the darkness
you called us.
At Chauvet, Font-de-Gaume, and Lascaux,
you carried pine torches and reindeer-fat lamps
into the black.
Bursts of light on limestone rock walls.
Past yellow stalagmites gleaming.
Past ceilings hung with ivory chandeliers
of stalactites icicle-thin.
Each one slowly dripping.
We step over puddles to follow your footprints fossilized —
your body weight pressed into this earth,
naked soles of your feet,
depressions of your toes, mud curling between.
Into deep caverns
you carried your charcoal, red ochre, and white kaolin.
In flickering light and shadow,
you summoned the bulge of a bison shoulder,
you stroked the long throat of a horse.
Over there, you etched the high slope of a mammoth’s back
with its hairy topknot.
And to the left, you dodged the horns of an aurochs bull.
In this fertile womb,
you pulled the animals from the stone.
In the heat of battle, two woolly rhinos clash horns.
In the heat of the hunt with eyes dilated and nostrils flared, a pride of lions leap.
In the heat of desire, a lion at the side of a lioness excited and responding.
On the ceiling at Rouffignac, four mares with calm eyes,
bellies heavy with foals dropped ready to birth.
A wish for smooth births for your clan?
At Pech Merle, the charcoal sketch of the half-bison, half-human.
That is you, shaman,
sliding between worlds
through crevices and cracks, fissures and folds,
to receive their powers
and they yours.
Whose handprints surround the bison and the spotted horses?
What do the blood red and black spots portend
in these many caves?
Your paintings called for food and mates and offspring.
Forty thousand years later
we are here.
-Sharon Metzler Dow, 2016