Sunday, February 09, 2014

Brigit Peegan Kelly: 'Pipistrelles'

I bought Brigit Peegan Kelly's Song at The Haunted Bookstore in Iowa City. I'd read the title poem and one other by her and wanted to read more. Naturally, having returned home, I put all the books away and had nothing but good intentions while doing so.

On the flight to Bombay, this was the one book I took with me. I read and stuck a finger between the pages while wanting to weep or make some extravagant gesture of appreciation even while being strapped in to my seat and trapped by the food cart.

I read 'Pipistrelles' and wrote frantically in my notebook. Then, as we prepared to land, I put the book away and didn't read another word from it until I - once again - returned home. In the interval, Ranjit Hoskote read a poem (At Hope St. Poets on the 5th) about skin. It felt like a word read and constantly making its presence felt soon after, because there was 'Pipistrelles'.

But you need to read the whole poem. Here it is.



In the damp dusk
The bats playing spies and counterspies by the river’s
Bankrupt water station

Look like the flung hands of deaf boys, restlessly
Signing the dark. Deaf boys
Who all night and into the half-lit hours

When the trees step from their shadows
And the shadows go to grass
Whistle those high-pitched tunes that, though unheard, hurt

Our thoughts. Pipistrelles, little pipes, little
Night pipes, the peculiar
Lost fluting of the outcast heart. Poor heart.

The river’s slate waters slide
Silt and grief, the whole destroyed mountain of winter
Over the weir. Never stopping,

Sometimes slowing, but never stopping. And
Along the banks the skinflint trees
Clasp their weak heat. Well, they are a touchy choir,

A confused congregation, breathing
The thin air of our unteneted world. The sun pales
The leafy dogma goes, and we are left

To our freedom. But do we see now
The world as it actually is? Or merely another world?
A world within a world? Perhaps

In spring when the dogwood
Slowly discloses its hoard of pale mothlike blossoms
It is the mind that mulls

The sap – perhaps it is the mind
That makes its worlds
And the miracles therein.


the bats resemble the deaf.
But they are not deaf. They live by echoes as we do.
Negotiate by echoes. Send signals out

And field the reflections on the wing. And only
Great fear will hang them
On the piano wires we string to test them,

Dead certain of our right to know
At any cost the mechanism of another’s flight.
Even blindfolded, even painted

All over with nail polish, the bats will manage
Those wires pulled free
From their instrument, from their sound, will play

Around them a makeshift music
So lovely the pianist’s fingers will falter with envy,
And only great fear will hang them.

But it is different with us. Fear in us
Is central. Of the bone. It is our inheritance.
Our error. What flies back at us

From rocks and trees from the emptiness
We cannot resist casting into,
Is coloured by the distortions of our hearts,

And what we hear almost always blinds us.
We stumble against phantoms, throw
Ourselves from imaginary cliffs, and at dusk, like children, we

Run the long shadows down. Because the heart, friend,
Is a shadow, a domed dark
Hung with remembered doings. A night feeder – moths,

Fur over the tongue and the wet jewel of blood,
The cracked shells of insects
Split on the wing. And elsewhere, by connection,

Blood draining from the perfect cut
That brings the rabbit down, a slow singing out,
As in a dream, the blood sliding,

As the water of the overflowing creek does, sideways
In its brief bid for freedom,
While above, something wings away.


we are not birds. Despite our walls covered
with winged men, we are not birds.
And all that is birdlike in the bats

Is also deception. They have
No feathers, no beak, no high-pitched heart.
Their wings are skin. Skin! Stretched

From shoulder to foot like the cloth
We nailed to wood to build
Our doomed medieval contraptions for flight,

Or like our taut sheets, the high-strung skin,
The great single wing of sex we lean on
But we are not birds. All that is birdlike

In us, in the bats, is illusion.
There is nothing at all of the bird in us....
Except for flight. Except for flight.


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