Vasant 2024 Poems - Nikhil Raman


Echoes of ancient spirits
By Nikhil Raman


A thousand generations ago, by a river along a gorge in Ardèche,
three Aurignacians: an aging shaman and his two young disciples,
wearing deer skin, lion teeth, and ivory beads –
ventured into the depths of a cave, dangerous and dark,
with torches, goatskin drums, and fistfuls of charcoal,
to tame nature, big cats and men; to cure hunger and disease.


With hands on soft, cool limestone walls, they felt their way
farther than anyone had gone before –
where bears and cave lions slept,
where the air was damp and heavy.

There, swallowed by darkness, their light shone brightest:
They spread pigment on stone, they tapped fingers on goatskin,
they invoked spirits – aligning the sky, the earth, and the underground;
Bulls locking horns, lions chasing bison, and wild boars in fields,
brought to life by a disfigured hand under the rumble of the drums.


They entered the cave at dusk, and emerged at dawn,
more certain of death than life, into an unforgiving world.
Now, time has dissolved their bones,
and drowned out the faint echoes of their goatskin drums.
But tens of thousands of years could not erode
the charcoal they spread on limestone.


Nikhil Raman from Netherlands is interested in poetry and paleoanthropology. He wrote this poem during a weekend trip to France to visit the Ardèche gorge, the caves and a museum on human prehistory


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