Knew Art

Image by Richard Riveiro from Pixabay

Publication Date: June, 2021

Location: Issue 7 of As Above, So Below. Alternatively, download the PDF below…

Genesis: I have been hugely inspired this year by the work of Caroline Bird. I was given a copy of ‘The Air Year’ for Christmas, and I doubt a week has passed since when I haven’t picked it up and read one or two poems from it. I also had the privilege of attending a salon with her earlier this year, in which she finally clarified for me the nature of a prose poem. A prose poem, Caroline said, knows it’s not a poem! It is most definitely prose, laced with poetic language and metaphors.

When the wonderful Bethany Rivers, publisher of As Above, So Below, put out a call for poems about hands and feet, it made me think of ancient cave art. I remembered seeing this video some years ago, and feeling moved by the realisation that we were ‘doing art’ at least 40,000 years ago. So, the following prose poem was born and, weaving it back to Caroline’s work, I paid tribute to her influence by taking two of the final words of her prose poem, The Girl Who Cried Love, as the final two words of mine.

(In As Above, So Below, this piece bears the title ‘Knowing Art’, but here, I’ve reverted to the original title I gave it.)

Handprints, older than the pyramids, adorning rock walls in caves and on cliffs, delicately painted in charcoal and ochre by the rough, hairy hands of our oldest upright ancestors, or stencilled in vermilion cinnabar dust, blown over, around and past an actual hand by musky-sweet breathe to stick to the stone for a dozen millennia. On an exposed cliff face, they signal – Stop! – Go no further! The jinn of this place welcome you not. At the entrance to the cave, though, they wave and beckon, reach out to take hold of my strange, strange clothes and lead me inwards to the cool and to the gloom, to a low, low murmur seeping softly from the fissures. Mesmerised, drawn deeper, ever further, until suddenly, startlingly, deep within the subterranean labyrinth, more prints appear, by the light of electricity and reason, scaring me, admonishing me, silently berating me for penetrating too far into the Sacred Mountain, into the Goddess, into the Dream. Back. Go back. You are like a child. Back, finally, at the gaping mouth of the cave – the extravagant window onto the wall-less vastness of the outside world – I finally find a perfect pair of ochre-blown handprints among the hundreds that are gathered, ready, or so I thought, to bid me farewell. These hands knew ice, intimately; knew fire, intimately; knew fear and love, intimately; knew the jinn, intimately; these are hands that knew art. I place my own, blood-warm hands tentatively upon them, and they immediately sink up to the wrists in the suddenly softening stone, while a voice far, far away in time and yet so close I can smell her musky-sweet breath, says, “Anchor yourself”.

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