One hundred thirty-four stone steps
drag us into the somber underground.
It is so novel an act, we have no thought
of what lies ahead when the time
comes to return to the comfort of earth.
Here in Slovenia’s Karst region
this huge limestone cave awes the breath
from us as, step by step, we descend
from sunlit warmth to eight degrees —
a constant, day or night, year in or out.
In this well-used cavern at a location
that is not its lowest depth at all,
but a spacious room where music
is played and prayers are uttered,
we listen to a brass ensemble blow
bats right-side-up, with notes flying
into every rock niche, sliding up
and down stalactites and stalagmites,
reaching out and up, shivering
a thousand candles with delight.
Over flicker and sputter of tapers
poets declaim poems and bring
evening to a close. Now we must
ascend to dark Slovenian night.
One hundred thirty-four steps: the test.
Up from the underground we climb,
single file, a stream of souls spiralling
to an imagined heaven. Our first steps
identical to those of the descent,
but now steps enlarge and each leg
must somehow be lifted higher.
A cruel joke? Has someone altered
the step size while we were below?
At one hundred steps we huff
and wheeze, wanting to stop
and rest, but there is no stop,
no looking back on this ascent
from the underworld, just keep
our eyes on the climber ahead
and hope that person doesn’t stop
or falter because these steps
will not suffice for two. If one
person stops, then we all must.
The only sounds are footfall
on stone, the puff and gasp,
and the rustle of clothing.
Just when we think our hearts
will burst and our leaden legs
will not budge another step,
we are returned to earth.
Night is cool, a lighted path
leads us to food and wine.
Glen Sorestad is a Canadian poet whose work has appeared in publication in various parts of the world, has appeared in over 60 anthologies and textbooks, and has been translated into eight languages. Sorestad lives with his wife Sonia in Saskatoon on the northern plains.