July 8, 2011 @ 4:45 pm | Filed under: Poetry
The bat-poet remembers his earliest days:
…And then the mother dances through the night
Doubling and looping, soaring, somersaulting—
Her baby hangs on underneath.
All night, in happiness, she hunts and flies.
Her high sharp cries
Like shining needlepoints of sound
Go out into the night and, echoing back,
Tell her what they have touched.
She hears how far it is, how big it is,
Which way it’s going:
She lives by hearing.
More Poetry Friday posts: Wild Rose Reader
More Bat-Poet moments
Rose petal, rock, leaf, bat
Her bat mood
I knew Rilla was enjoying The Bat-Poet, but I didn’t realize how much until this afternoon, as we neared the end of the book. She turned to me with furrowed brow and said, “When we finish, will we be able to read it again?”
“You mean right away?”
I told her sure we could, and she heaved a mighty sigh of relief.
I’ve noticed that the older girls can’t help but be drawn into the story if they pass through the room where Rilla and I are reading. It’s a soft and gentle tale, rather quiet, with velvety-rich language. Oh, I just love Randall Jarrell. His mockingbird and chipmunk have such personality, and the introspective, yearning bat is a kindred spirit—really. He composes poems. He longs to be able to pour forth a magical, uplifting song like the mockingbird’s, but he can’t sing. He finds himself fitting observations into words and phrases, lyrical and perceptive lines of poetry. But oh, how he doubts himself. The mockingbird’s cool, clinical analysis—“It was clever of you to have that last line two feet short”—leaves him bewildered and longing for an audience who is moved by his words. When, after hearing the bat’s poem about an owl, the chipmunk shivers and vows to go underground before dark from now on, the little bat is deeply gratified: he knows his words have had an impact.
His poems move and shiver me, too—
All day long the mockingbird has owned the yard.
As light first woke the world, the sparrows trooped
Onto the seedy lawn: the mockingbird
Chased them off shrieking. Hour by hour, fighting hard
To make the world his own, he swooped
On thrushes, thrashers, jays, and chickadees—
At noon he drove away a big black cat.
Now, in the moonlight, he sits here and sings.
A thrush is singing, then a thrasher, then a jay—
Then, all at once, a cat begins meowing.
A mockingbird can sound like anything.
He imitates the world he drove away
So well that for a minute, in the moonlight,
Which one’s the mockingbird? Which one’s the world?
I know that mockingbird.
I know that bat, too.
Related post: Rose petal, rock, leaf, bat
“Mommy,” says Rilla, “I’m in a bad mood.”
“You’re in a bad mood? Why?”
“No, not a bad mood. A bat mood!”
She holds up her wrist, clinging to which is a small furry brown bat with tiny magnets in its wingtips. We were digging through a box of toys in the garage this morning, looking for my old Smurf collection; Rose found the mushroom house in the girls’ closet and wanted to populate it for Rilla. The garage search produced only the baker Smurf—and, it seems, the stuffed bat. For today, at least, Smurfs have been forgotten.
Well, a bat mood. I can accommodate that. I went hunting for our copy of Stellaluna but didn’t find it. (You may detect a pattern here.) However, there on the shelf was Randall Jarrell’s lovely fairy-story, The Bat-Poet. Even better. Rilla propped her wrist on the arm of my rocking chair so her little bat could see the pictures—such delectable ones, drawn by Maurice Sendak.
Once upon a time there was a bat—a little light brown bat, the color of coffee with cream in it.
We didn’t get far, for after only a few pages, Rose and Huck returned from a walk around the block, and he had treasures to bestow. A rose petal for Rilla, a large smooth stone for Wonderboy, and a yellowed magnolia leaf for me. He could hardly hand them over fast enough: he needed his hands free to sign cat whiskers. My children measure their walks in number of cats encountered. This was a three-cat morning, a very good day.
Rilla’s bat had things to tell Rose, who is extremely receptive to the confidences of small animals in the hands of small children. Rilla showed her The Bat-Poet, and the opening line reminded Rose of the Little Brown Bat entry in the Handbook of Nature Study. The three of them—big girl, little girl, stuffed bat—looked at the pictures in that book for a while, and then it was cast aside and Rose began to spin a story: the first installment, I’m told, of The Bat Chronicles, about a little girl named Batty (inspired by The Penderwicks, of course) who rescues a lost bat named Bitty. I was eavesdropping like crazy, but then Wonderboy wanted his daily Signing Time, and the Bat Chroniclers moved to their bedroom.
And now the boys are watching Zoo Train, and Jane is running her lines for our upcoming Twelfth Night performance, and Beanie is lying on her bed listening to Suzanne Vega.
And in case that all sounds too idyllic, I should mention that my sink is full of breakfast dishes, and my floor is carpeted with cracker crumbs. There is a mountain of paperwork on the table behind me. I should be doing housework but sat down to write this post instead.
P.S. Thank you for your questions and comments on the open thread. I am so enjoying them and should have a chance to answer some of this afternoon. And I have a question of my own for another post. I’m really stealing these minutes right now—it isn’t my usual blogging time—but I wanted to capture the morning before it slipped away. Signing Time is almost over, so writing time is too!
Related post: “He imitates the world he drove away…”