Chauvet Cave

by Don Schaeffer & Alex Nodopaka
PenShells
Honorable Mention, February 2012
Judged by John Timpane


I.

From a world of
closed loops
where bends and
corners weren’t
imagined yet,
where animals
mixed and souls
slipped in and out
of bodies. We hold
the line now, cold
and fast. We
lock and crimp sharp.
The circle is only
an ideal we cannot match.

II.

Two learned bards on a poetry forum
were exchanging particular knowledge
about articulated molecular formations.

The elder poet spoke of the aforementioned
cave drawings fashioned of only closed loops
and bends and curves where not a single

quadrangular design could be perceived.
The other versifier noted that in some
scientific readings he learned that portions

of the visual cortex were programmed
for rectangles and orthogonals.
Something Newton probably didn’t know

due to the orthogonal concussion he sustained
consequent to the apple falling from the tree
at a right angle to his position to the earth.

This explains why planets appear to be
round because the world is an optical illusion
full of obtuse human squares

and despite poets spinning curved language
giving words reverse English spin
through similes and poetic allegories

only to confuse us poor white potato eaters.
As for me I have an affinity for the ova
which explains why my perspective on the

subject is as oval as femininity can be and
that the Ganzfeld theory of perception
which starts with circles becoming deformed

by ocular compression resulting in migraines
is a good reason why I stay away
from burdening scientific dogmas.


A looping, intelligent poem that tries to duck its own ambition, succeeding, at last, in not doing so. We start from a lovely sense of how the artistic sensibility displayed in the cave wall painting differs from our own. And then, the second part, cocking snooks at the way in which too much human conversation about things we really cannot grasp sound. The main vehicle here is tedious overstatement, opening, however, into windows of unsuspected lyricism, such as the hilarious “planets appear to be/ round because the world is an optical illusion/ full of obtuse human squares.” Not only science, and not only academic talk, gets smacked, but also poetry. Right at the end, we have drilled down to the predicament of the “I” in the poem, as far from cave paintings, Isaac Newton, optical and neuophysiological theory as you can get, a subjectivity that just can’t see things in any of these ways, the voice out of which we get the poem. It’s fun, funny, makes some great, unparaphrasable points, and changes so much as we go through reading time (nice use of the three-line stanza form!) that at end, we feel we have had a fine and worthwhile journey. --John Timpane

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