Bio: Michael Simms is an American poet and literary publisher. His poems have been published in literary journals and magazines including 5 A.M., Poetry Magazine, Black Warrior Review, Mid-American Review, Pittsburgh Quarterly, Southwest Review, and West Branch. He is the founder and editor of Vox Populi. His forthcoming title Nightjar and his most recent book American Ash are available from Ragged Sky Press.
Beauty didn’t interest me.Bats did. I wasa budding nerd who’d already memorized everything I could find about the 17 species of bats nesting in Carlsbad Caverns and now my imagination was aroused by the possibility of seeing the nursery of the Brazilian free-tail where a colony of millionshung upside down nourishing their babies withmilk, not insects, as I explained to my mother who gleamed with pride at her little chiropterologist. The bats flew out of the cave in a huge black cloud every evening to hunt insects and haunt the countryside, returning at dawn using echolocation, I explained to my mother. The nurserywas off-limits to families on the tour of course but I had plans of sneaking away.* The park ranger herded us down the chained path sloping into the earth until we came to a cathedral where columns of rock caught the light and shimmered. If beauty had been my thing this was it but it wasn’t. I was impatient to see the flutter-mice I’d come for and nothing less. In a sonorous voice the ranger said to us, his congregation,Absolute darkness is rare. Even if you lock yourself in a closet at night during a blackouta small amount of light will seep into your eyes. He said he would turn off the lightsfor 30 seconds. Just 30 seconds,he said, but it will feel like a lifetime. Then the world, everything I knew went dark and I gasped for light as if it were air and breathed in nothing I knew. Confusion, panic, calm, exhilaration washed over me. I breathed the darkness into my lungs felt the darkness on my skin not an absence but a texture which now half a century later I might name the black fabric of my unconsciousalthough at the age of 11all I knew was a rising panic that dissolved into pure imperishable awe. * In that darknessthe chronic angers of my family which had ruled my life receded, as did schoolwhich bored me, my supposed friends whom I suspected pitied me, and the whole shoddy apparatus of my life as an autistic kid who hadn’t learned to speak until he was five, an easy target for bullies and abusers a kid who had climbed into himselfand found so little in the empty attic of a soul full of broken toys he’d acceptedhis role as the loneliest boyon the planet, a perpetual party of one, a specteron the spectrum. Having been silent almost half my life I hadn’t gotten the hang of being pleasant, so I relied on the illusion of intelligence – a tiresome authority on insects,a memorizer of maps and tables,a secret lover of Dean Martin, a singer of the music of scientific names --this life, the only one I would know for decades --faded away in the dark like a bad dream I could wake from simply by turning out the lights and the darkness inside me would merge with the darkness of the world and I would feel whole and if not happy at least at peace with this sorry lot I’d been given through no fault of my own. The world of darkness would be mineand like a comic book hero who’d fought the demonsand won, I would have my own kingdom and with a gentle hand I’d rulethe gentle dead who’d welcome me home. * And when the lights came back onand the cavern beckonedwith its precarious paths, low ceilings and huge opera halls,stadiums of jeweled earth and the slight breeze comingfrom even deeper darknesses below, nothing in the tourof those magnificent caves and their tight squeezes that led to ballrooms and stadiums crowded with stone spectators who’d witnessed the slow accumulationof calcium ghosts in the galleries of ancient coral beds, not the Hall of Giants or the Crystal Spring Dome, not the stone elephants or the fine filigree of red minerals, or the stone draperies and lily pads suspended from the ceiling, or the cave pearls, the gypsum flowers, the chandelier ballroom of massive speleothems, or the water dripping from the ceiling for eonsshaping the great cities uninhabited by the living,or the tempting mysteries of Lake Lebarge with its blind white fish who’d never seen daylight, nor even the 138 miles of the forbidden wilderness of the Lechuguilla Cave awakened my innocence and longing as this song, this beckoning from the underbelly of the worldthis darkness singing come home, come homelittle onewe’ve been waiting for you * As we passed the sign showing the way to the bat nursery which was the ranger’s cuefor a scripted joke about Batman, I ducked out of line and moved towardthe narrow passage, butmy mother gently reined me in and I stayed with her through the tour, discovering a group of sleeping bats is called a cauldronand in flight a cloud and that evening we returned to watch from the amphitheaterthe black cloud of bats leaving the rocky entrance and gaining speed like wind-blown smoke sweeping over the Chihuahuan desert with a horizontal speed of up to 100 mph, each soul catching and eating up to ½ ofits ½ ounce weight in flies, crickets, maggots and I envied their nimble flighton quick fierce wingsand I wanted to return not to the cave, but tothe darkness, those 30 secondsflying through the stone passageways navigating by sound andinstinct out of the cave and upto the reddening sky, the slender moonbright as a sword. * Yes, I knew I would returnto this nothingness, this absence where I could blossom like a stone flower,a stalactitegrowing slowly, invisibly in the darkness that roselike a slight breeze from the chambers below where evenmy own breath seemed unbearably loud, this quick fierce movementlike wings at the beginning of my feelinglife, this moment when the past and future melded and time no longer flowed like waterbut flowed like rock and even now, here in this darkness I still containI feel completely and blessedly empty and my own death begins to sing.