Amaud Jamaul Johnson

The Lost Sea

For generations, hillbillies stumbled
into the hollow of the rock, testing


themselves against the hard darkness
treacherous as the mouth of a dead man.


Below ground, alcohol echoes in every chamber
of the heart, so the bootleggers moved in,


and plenty a man, lost in the pleasures of his work,
blew himself from this kingdom and the next.


They called it the curse of Chief Craighead,
how the Confederates, mining for saltpeter,


and the mushroom farmers disappeared.
Lovers, searching for the forgiveness of shadows,


found years later in dry heaps like jaguar bones.
In 1905, a thirteen year old, named Ben Sands,


slipped seventy yards in a sinkhole, and claimed
he hit standing water. It took fifty years before


they found the lake, fifteen acres across
and over eighty feet deep, stalactites still dripping,


anthodite in full bloom across the cavern walls.
Locals called the big one “Betsy the Milking Cow”


and this became the talk of Sweetwater, all the talk
of East Tennessee: how a boy unearthed a lak


and grew old a liar; how the truth of the rock,
the fluidity of darkness, became the truth of the soul.