Outside & Subterranean Poems, a Mini-Anthology in Progress (55): Figures in the Dark, the Dancer at Trois Frères
[The opening selection from a work in progress, Barbaric Vast & Wild: An Assemblage of Outside & Subterranean Poetry, edited with John Bloomberg-Rissman]
The first traces of poetic mind begin in darkness: a mystery of figures — sorcerers or shamans — on a journey into hidden places, beyond the boundaries of light & human dwellings. It is in the depths of those caves — 30,000 years in the past — that we get the first glimmers of a move toward the recording of memory & an active imagination that frees such memory & brings it into a new configuration. But it is the mystery that taunts us most: what brought him/them into that darkness, that loneliness, to fill it with figures from the outer world, the shapes largely of animals, seen here in torchlight or not seen at all. There would seem to be a testing in all this – & a magic that the night enhances — in a place forever night. In a rush of images — in the search for answers — the Aztec definitions of cave & precipice come back to us:
It becomes long, deep; it widens, extends, narrows. It is a constricted place, a narrowed place, one of the hollowed-out places. It forms hollowed-out places. There are roughened places; there are asperous places. It is frightening, a fearful place, a place of death. It is called a place of death because there is dying. It is a place of darkness; it darkens; it stands ever dark. It stands wide-mouthed, it is wide-mouthed. It is wide-mouthed; it is narrow-mouthed. It has mouths which pass through.
I place myself in the cave. I enter the cave.
It is deep – a difficult, a dangerous place, a deathly place. It is dark, it is light.
It is an abyss.
The human images are few here, yet the one at Trois Frères, dances toward us, man & beast at once, as the cave behind him leads — ineluctably — to the underworld, the subterranean realm that holds secrets more potent than the upper earth or sky. And it is here too that the first writing — drawing — takes place, “in the dark” as Duncan named it / knew it — in his final work:
in the dark this state
that knows nor sleep nor waking, nor dream
— an eternal arrest.
The dancer — sorcerer or shaman — becomes our emblem for the work to come.