Nanih Waiya Cave
Pearl River, Mississippi
“A very long time ago the first creation of men was in Nanih Waiya; and there they were made and there they came forth. […] And the Choctaws […] came out of Nanih Waiya. And they then sunned themselves on the earthen rampart and when they got dry, they did not go anywhere but settled down on this very land and it is the Choctaws’ home.” -Isaac Pistonatubbee
A couple miles down this iron-locked road
is low cave in a large mound. Dad throws rocks
inside the gape. We hear shallow water.
He crawls through the opening, flashlight in hand.
I am scared of underground places, can’t follow.
There is room for four grown men to stand, he echoes.
I stay where I can see what’s around me:
Kudzu-draped trees, old growth, in the shadows.
I can almost see what’s inside them, their stories,
but they’re tight-lipped and I take my lesson.
Picnic tables, grills, beer cans surround the mound.
Even though it’s miles away from any town,
no sign, not on a map, just a numbered
county road, I can see people still come here.
Dad crawls out, throws a burnt log onto the ground.
I want to go inside; shuffle, head down, knees up
into the entrance but can’t go any further.
Instead I grab a handful of wet cave-wall dirt,
mossy green, replace it with my hair. I clutch
this dirt-gift, nails in palms, head pulsing heat from pain.
This place he’s taken me, this Shadow World,
requires both of us. We had to come
to our Source, go in, come back out renewed.
But I’m not done with this past yet, can’t end it
and reemerge; my head is burning in shadow.*
by Lara Mann