705: The Bats

705: The Bats

705: The Bats


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

Unlike some of my friends, I’ve never been scared of bats. Even as they circled overhead in the twilight. Even with their eerie vampiric myths and too-true terrifying reports of rabies, I liked them. They are like night birds. I particularly liked their movements. The way they dart and swoop and navigate by echolocation.

You can also count on them. Their nighttime appearances. We’d sit on our rooftop in downtown Sonoma and wait for them to come out just around sunset. We’d watch and point and gasp when they first showed up against the salmon colored sky.

Now, when they arrive at dusk in Kentucky, they remind me that the whole world is brimming with life at all hours. The birds I’ve been watching all day tuck themselves into their trees and then, the bats come out. A changing of the guard.

But perhaps one of my favorite things about bats came out of a conversation I had with my friend Jason Schneiderman, who once pointed out that bats have both wings and hands. Think about it. Wings AND hands!

Once, my friend Kristin asked my husband and me which animal we would be if we could be any animal in the world. She chose a whale because she could explore the unknown depths of the ocean and she could have a pod, and a song! My husband chose a shark so he could feel safe in the knowledge that no one else would eat him. But then he worried that would just make him nature’s jerk. For me, it was a bat. My strange little nocturnal familiar.

The other day, I got to have lunch in person with both the former and current producers of The Slowdown. My reading schedule was coming to a close for the season and I told them that at the end of my last one, which was on the rooftop of the New York Public Library, I was going to fly off into the night and become a bat. They laughed as I demonstrated, in the middle of a restaurant, what it might look like to leap into the night with a pen still in my hand, arms wide and winglike.

I could have wings to escape into the green canopy of Bryant Park, but I could keep my hands so I could write more poems.

Today’s poem is in praise of bats. I love how this poem speaks to how we share our world with this exquisite creature of mystery.

The Bats
by Mark Wunderlich

I share my house with a colony of bats.
They live in the roof peak,
enter through a gap.

At dusk they fly out, dip
into inverted arcs
to catch what flutters or stings,

what can only be hunted at night.
Sunlight stops their flight,
drives them into their hot chamber

to rest and nest, troll-faces
pinched shut. I hear them scratch.
In darkness they chop and hazard through the sky,

around blue outlines of pines,
pitch up over the old Dutch house
we share. They scare some

but not me. I see them
for what they seem—
timid, wee, happy or lucky,

pinned to the roof beams,
stitched up in their ammonia reek
and private as dreams.

"God of Nothingness" by Mark Wunderlich, from GOD OF NOTHINGNESS, copyright © 2021 Mark Wunderlich. Used by permission of Graywolf Press.