The Cave


Ten boxes, carved out of smooth, un-varnished wood, in a cave that had taken me hours to find. Hours, waist deep in cold water, crawling through tunnels that had never been mapped. There were no locks on the boxes, no catches, no keys, no marks.

I opened the largest of them.

Carved out of white stone, rubbed smooth like a pebble, the shape of a heart. Flat, as large as the palm of my hand (but I did not pick it up). Someone has placed a box, by a pool, in an inaccessible cave on an un-visited island, and in it, placed a rock carved heart.

I open another box; it contains another smooth rock carving, not of polished marble, but smooth white rock. The shape of a bird. There is no delicacy to its carving, no feathers on its body; no animation. But there is a beauty in the simple shape - as if a bird, many years ago, had been turned to stone, and then the sea - or the air, or the weight of the island - had rubbed all its features off.

Each box contains a carving. A house; the sun; the letter F, carved out of stone. The last box contains a square, thin, like a slate, or a tile. Lines are carved on it, along, and across, forming smaller squares, and in each square is a letter. I stare at it, trying to form words: trying to form words, in a grid of letters, but there are none. A child's puzzle in a foreign language, or a magical charm?

I hear a sound. Someone is with me in the cave. I cannot see his face. I do not speak, I extinguish my torch.

In the darkness, there is a cracking, shattering sound.

My torch is on again: theman has taken a hammer, and smashed the smooth, white stone bird into pieces; the pieces he lets fall through his fingers, lets them fall back into the box, leaving it open.

One by one, he opens each box.

I try to stop him. To destroy, wantonly, this thing, this mystery.

I am weeping: the tears that come when you are looking at something beautiful, the tears of frustration when the toy that you have waited so long for has been broken.

The man smiles at me, and smashes the acrostic grid.

I look at him, not understanding.

"It was the most beautiful poem that I ever made" he said, as if that explained it. "I do not think that I will ever make another one. But you spoiled the poem."

"But it isn't spoiled" I said, "It is beautiful."

He smiled again, and as he smiled he smashed the stone heart.

"You have been here," he said "You have broken it." I left him in the cave, with the ten boxes, a smashed icon in each, and in the biggest, the pieces of a heart.

Through tunnels and caves, waist deep in water, to the surface. From the darkness of the cave, to brightness of the stars and the moon upon the sea. As I left the cave and breathed the fresh air, I was not surprised to see a man sitting on the shore.

'Your poem is finished' I said.

'I know.' he said.

Together, we rowed out to sea