~These poems were originally published in JMI: Journal for the Motherhood Initiative, as part of “A Manual for Children Leaving Home” (2011).
How to Make Friends Using Bat Wings
Maybe the last time you tried them on
they somehow galled or grounded you.
It’s certain that when you hung them up
(you’d also been trying to sleep lanternless)
they hovered, sighing.
Perhaps it’s time to move more than air.
Pulling them a body’s width apart,
ask a stranger to slip the left wing on
then stand out-of-doors together
until night alone can fill the chinks.
“Oh, but the body’s everything,”
sign some real bats then,
caroming among the palm trees
like smaller, more frantic fronds.
How to Put Sound in the Movie
Remember, forests have mastered this game,
so while they gather up fireflies,
whisper like rain.
It’s not a matter of love or of pain.
Any light wants a voice.
Any dark needs the same.
Whisper bigger to see figured
love of eclipse and philosophy.
How to Make the Sky Stay Up
# Think how sky swaths every head like a turban.
In houses it breaths via furnace or air conditioning.
# Be more technical still: down + up = up.
# Keep your eyes on your feet.
Gravity will help.
On your feet, on your feet.
# Mostly water yourself, you’re also part sky.
Let no one touch this, not even you at your dirty weepiest.
# Bribe lightning to groan “Don’t shower”
and “Together we’re electric.”
# Take a job moonlighting and keep moving up.
# Don’t change anything else into sky.
You’ll be intoxicatingly unsuccessful.
You’ll waste your life.
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEMS
You know how pre-kindle we used to throw strange books into our suitcases? And there’s nothing like art books—for some reason, at the last moment before leaving for a 2007 residency, I tossed in a book about Venezuelan artist Armando Reveron’s recent retrospective at MOMA, a show I hadn’t seen. What , as it turned out, I fixated on were his odd, unusable ready-mades: a flat birdcage, huge batwings, a wooden telephone, a bound bundle of feathers. In my isolation I began to imagine poems as similar things and began instructing myself in a kind of how-to manual fashion. While I now realize this was a transition stage—I was trying to learn from Reveron how to make more conceptual work and indeed was stepping my way into the combinatory creations—the postcards, video, site-specific installations , multi-media shows and other ephemeral poetic gestures I soon began making with Brazilian visual artist Cyriaco Lopes, I still enjoy thinking about constructing these little oddities and am happy to have them reduxed , as seems perfectly appropriate, from page into air.
[Editor's Note: More information about Armando Reveron’s show at MoMA.]
ABOUT TERRI WITEK
Terri Witek is the author of Exit Island, The Shipwreck Dress, Carnal World ,Fools and Crows, Courting Couples (Winner of the 2000 Center for Book Arts Contest) and Robert Lowell and LIFE STUDIES: Revising the Self . Her collaborations with Brazilian visual artist Cyriaco Lopes have been featured in galleries or site-specific projects in New York City, Los Angeles and elsewhere. A professor of English at Stetson University, her summer faculty positions have included the West Chester Poetry Conference, the Prague Summer Literary Program and the DisQuiet program in Lisbon, where she runs “The Fernando Pessoa Game.” For more information: http://terriwitek.com/