Swallow-Holes

Our maps define the limestone dale we’re in,
and also show us what’s beneath the skin
of field and fell. Among the contour lines
are pockmark swallow-holes, like ancient mines.

These are the avens plunging to deep veins
in the rock’s fracture; splintered souterrains
spreading across an obscure hinterland.
Unseen, dark rivers flow there; lakes expand.

A world apart, the bowelled aquifers;
the dripping caverns with their long fingers
of lime; the buried waters trickling by
without disturbance; no observing eye

to detect them in their slow processes –
contaminate – pierce their unconsciousness.
Deep below ground, the hidden measures serve
to hold, accumulate, keep in reserve.

And yet the upper landscape answers
to their capacities; the river dries or dances
according to their appetite; it swells
when they are swollen; and when they thirst, it fails.

Explorers I salute; those who descend
and penetrate, and push on to the end,
exhausted, always hoping that beyond a
last dark channel they will find a wonder.

The wonder, though, remains in what’s unseen;
the narrow capillaries; the whole machine
with its elaborate vessels, filters
of mineral, rich with minute particulars.

The wonder lies in courses of a deep
and hidden purity, the constant seep
of waters, and in due time their issuing
into a flight of streams, a sudden spring.

– David Morphet 2003