by Ernest Hilbert
Coffee did little to wake us since we arrived
On the volcano. We only wanted to sleep.
A clear summer morning smeared and bruised
As we tore the tiny car along narrow
Mountain passes over a frothing, fanged coast.
At tight shadowed curves, headlamps lit warnings
Painted on the streaked mineral walls,
Some word the locals use that we didn’t know.
We spun down a tightly wound switchback
To a small white village tucked among boulders.
The villagers scarcely noticed us.
One slowly swept dust from the porch of a red house
That seemed like it might slough into the water.
Another watched from a high window,
But it may have been a retreating flash
Of sun. Our sandals crunched down on shards,
Smashed aquatic armor of blue crabs.
We located a thin steep trail hacked out
Of stone over the water. We took it.
It worried its slender way along the caldera.
At trail’s end, we came upon a jagged spit
Over the submerged rim where heavy green
Water went black and the bottom dropped
Quickly down into the bottomless throat.
Another couple, just dried, dressed themselves there.
We waved, and they greeted us in return.
The man gestured vaguely to the island
And said something we didn’t understand.
They lingered for a while, as we undressed,
Awkwardly. We leapt from the jagged sill.
Under, we saw enormous ancient chains
Blur faintly link by link into the murk.
We swam, as thin light receded further, toward
The ferocious rocky mass that shot up
Like the top of a tower from small waves.
We floated around to the far side of the island,
Craned our necks, breathed, and treaded water,
Shocked to find a temple carved in its side.
A wet black chain snaked up the sheer face.
I hauled my air-chilled body to the ledge.
Then I coaxed you, as you floated, unsure,
In the darkening water, until you pulled
Yourself up as well, took my hand. We appraised
The fierce faces of what felt like gods,
Or their champions, worn by endless rains.
We peered deeper in, listened, but heard nothing.
How long had it been here? Did anyone
Still visit, or was it something lived with
So long it was forgotten, once hidden from view?
The sun rapidly embered out on the edge.
Then it pitched darker, and it was night
Sooner than we expected. Neither
Of us had the strength, or nerve,
To reenter the water and swim back.
We shivered and slowly dried in wind
That fluted through the massive gnarled figures.
We heard something, distinct from the waves
Splashing toward us around the island.
We looked out into the older dark as it neared.
We gripped our knees to our chests, and waited.