This poem had its genesis in an event in Africa where I went to a cave where there were approximately 10 million bats. And I tried to write a poem about them and finally it came to fruition during a drought in another part of the world, in France when one morning I woke up and looked out and the trees - the raindrops were still glittering from a night storm on the leaves. And the two things came together. And the poem grew out of that.
Another drought morning after a too brief dawn downpour,
uncountable silvery glitterings on the leaves of the withering maples –
I think of a troop of the blissful blessed approaching Dante,
"a hundred spheres shining," he rhapsodizes, "the purest pearls…"
then of the frightening brilliant myriad gleam in my lamp
of the eyes of the vast swarm of bats I found once in a cave,
a chamber whose walls seethed with a spaceless carpet of creatures,
their cacophonous, keen, insistent, incessant squeakings and squealings
churning the warm, rank, cloying air; of how one,
perfectly still among all the fitfully twitching others,
was looking straight at me, gazing solemnly, thoughtfully up
from beneath the intricate furl of its leathery wings
as though it couldn't believe I was there, or was trying to place me,
to situate me in the gnarl we'd evolved from, and now,
the trees still heartrendingly asparkle, Dante again,
this time the way he'll refer to a figure he meets as "the life of…"
not the soul, or person, the life, and once more the bat, and I,
our lives in that moment together, our lives, our lives,
his with no vision of celestial splendor, no poem,
mine with no flight, no unblundering dash through the dark,
his without realizing it would, so soon, no longer exist,
mine having to know for us both that everything ends,
world, after-world, even their memory, steamed away
like the film of uncertain vapor of the last of the luscious rain.
first published in The New Yorker 2006, ? C K Williams 2006, used by permission of used by permission of the author