2023 Winning Poem


I want to know the path to the painted French cave
   The paths are all lost but footsteps remember
I want to trek with the clans of the 30,000-year fires
   They will be waiting for you
I want to go in at the cave mouth with nothing, naked
   Someone will robe you and paint your face
I want limestone walls layered with spectral paintings
   Even crows know the way
I want to lose my long name there at the start
   Which is to take a name not yet spoken
I want my feet in ash a thousand lifetimes from its fires
   They kept a cinder wrapped in moss, wrapped in hide
I want to blow yellow dust over my hand onto the rock
   Outstretchedand yours among thousands
I want to climb to the French cave with the grassy porch
   Where men embellished and hardened their weapons
I want to touch the holy bear skull: steady my hand
   Lost in the galleries but ever holy as water
I want to find the room with the cold black spring
   There are the long bones of lions
I want to crawl with a lamp to the innermost rooms
   In black absolute, still bison are bowing
I want to imagine the makers painted lithe humans
   Lithe humansbut yes there are none
I want the painted French cave risen five times from ice
   And now risen in heat; the stone walls are sweating
I want to be like a ghost listening curiously to words
   The fire lives in the wood: someone will wake you

 Robert Clinton