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).