A ballad by Thomas Davis
“It is hard to follow one great vision in this world of darkness and of many changing shadows. Among those men get lost.”
― Black Elk, Black Elk Speaks
“Not far from Big Skylight and Four Windows Caves,
across fields of aa lava, loose, rough, sharp, flecked with green and orange lichen,
in darkness so absolute light becomes a memory,
blind dragons live beside an underground river”
— Thomas Davis, Inside the Blowholes
One day and night, three days and nights,
He sat inside the earth
And stared at winter’s cold, bright skies
Awaiting spring’s rebirth.
Inside his heart an awful dread
Quaked through each day’s long hours,
His mind’s shade stirring strange,
Malevolent, dark powers.
At sixteen years he should have been
Alive to all life held,
But in the windswept wilderness
He sat alone, compelled
To wait for promises that hung
Suspended in the air —
As foreign to his wish for life
As ghosts of grizzly bears.
Then, with the rising of the moon,
As puffs of glittering snow
Flowed ghostly over coal-black stones,
A trance began to flow
Like water over who he was,
His dreaming powerful
Enough to give him second sight,
A world turned beautiful.
And from the east he saw them flying,
Great beasts with whirling eyes,
Bright wings, long necks outstretched, their bodies
Dark in cold, night skies.
Inside his cave his vision thundered songs
As beasts as large as hills
Flew straight toward his hiding place,
Then flared their wings, a shrill
Bewailing shivering alive
The silver moon, the stones,
The night-time universe,
His fragile frame of human bones.
“Beware! Beware!” His spirit wailed.
“We’re dragons,” said huge minds
Inside his mind. “We’re all that’s left
Of ancient dragonkind.”
He tried to cringe back in his cave,
But as the dragons sank
Their claws in earth and slowly walked
Past where he hid and shrank
From heads and bodies nightmare-huge,
He felt how sadness filled
The night and twisted who he was,
His boyhood murdered, killed
By creatures that could not be real,
By sadness from a trance,
By loss much greater than the loss
Of humans from life’s dance.
The dragons passed him in the night,
Came to a cave so huge
It seemed to swallow dragons whole
Into a centrifuge.
As dragon after dragon went
Beneath volcanic ground,
He held his breath and prayed and prayed
He’d not be seen nor found.
At last a single dragon paused
Before the mawing dark;
She seemed to sigh before she left
The night, a matriarch
Who did not want to leave the world
For life inside old fires
Long ossified to rock and sure
To end her life’s desires.
And as she paused she turned and saw
Him huddled in his cave.
Her eyes whirled fire and made him quake
While trying to be brave.
She made no sound, but stared at him
Until, his heartbeats wild,
He crawled into the night
And stood, a frightened human child
Inside the gaze of dragon eyes
That bored into his heart
And stripped him of humanity,
His spirit rived apart.
The dragon snorted, sending fire
Into the nighttime air.
He stood and forced his eyes to match
The dragon stare for stare.
The world seemed poised upon a brink
Where revelations stormed,
But then the dragon turned from Seer,
Child, leaving him forlorn.
Inside the moment when the dragon
Turned, left him once again
Alone, his hair turned white; he aged
And grinned an old man’s grin.
He kept the dragons’ secret safe
And lived a hundred years,
A man apart, a man so strange
He had no sense of fear.