“Promise Made in Total Darkness” by Bill King

When we enter the Sinks—a mile-long gurgle of snow 
melt and spring water that splits a high bald then slips 
under a ledge of limestone—the summer blues go first, 
and then spruce green, until we reach the last ripple

of light on the walls and stop. A swallow flits over, 
and you, taller and bearded now, point one long 
finger toward a clutch of blind beaks clamoring 
above a lip of grass and clay. We wade beneath

them to the edge of the bend, step onto a boulder, 
and stare into the black. You click your headlamp 
forward but I swivel around to witness the quick
dipping bird flit from the flaming zero of the entrance 

and into a swarm of flies. By the time I feel the ancient 
wire of need keening across the space between us, 
you’ve gone. So I click headlamp forward and step once 
again into the shockingly cold water. The stream 

narrows and deepens. Sand banks near the cave wall 
steepen, then cake to mud. Crouched and low, I touch stone
for balance, try to catch up, but slip then slide waist deep. 
How far ahead could he be? I think, and kill the light 

to better hear. I call. One beat. Two. Until, "Dad?” 
echoes off the opposite wall and I wait for the blade of light.
“We’ll do it,” you say, “but not today.” No hard hats,
no extra lamps, not safe enough, yet, for the long traverse 

from blue to blue beneath a field of hooves. Lights off  
again, you grip my shoulder and the weight of stone 
above lifts like ravens riding updraft above the ridgeline.  
“Next summer,” you say, gripping harder until I believe.

Bill King grew up outside of Roanoke, Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mountains. His work has appeared in Kestrel, 100 Word Story, Appalachian Heritage, Mountains Piled Upon Mountains: Appalachian Nature Writing in the Anthropocene (WVU Press), The Southern Poetry Anthology, Naugatuck River Review, and many other journals and anthologies. He holds an M.A. in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Literature from the University of Georgia and teaches creative writing and literature at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, WV. His first chapbook of poetry, from Finishing Line Press, is The Letting Go (2018).