Little Brown Bat
That you must fall to fly. That you can live two decades or more.
That you have young like we do, one per year.
That you make a rich milk to feed your pup and to keep it warm
fold it between your wings.
That you eat every day half your weight in mosquitoes, found
by echolocation one winged speck at a time.
That you hibernate in utter torpor, absorbing the fat you’ve stored,
a very precise amount.
That you were, on that July night, a shy, soft thing, a vibration
just brushing my left eyebrow.
That you once were once unnumbered as Dante’s leaves in the fall.
That you die from eating the insects
we poison. That you are cut down by wind turbines, not the blades
but the drop in air pressure popping you
like kernels of corn. That you swoop and careen arcs traced
by the streetlights of my childhood summers.
That when my father taught me to swat down a bat with a broom
—a brown mouse with wings and soft ear tufts—
then to bring down the hammer, he cleared his throat and looked away.
That you rarely are rabid
and never drink blood—no, you eat fruit and, in a day half your weight
in mosquitoes—that you pollinate
our orchards in summer and in winter sleep in caves, upside down,
furled like buds with your young clasped inside.
Magnified, Geomyces destructans is branched and fletched
like a blue snowflake,
and it blooms over your face, body and wings, etching your flesh
in terrible symmetry,
and when you most need to be still, it disturbs you, makes you
move in your sleep, burning the fat
you’ve stored, a very precise amount that assumes a dormant bat,
one who does not stir,
but you do stir in your deep sleep, and starve, and fall. Not to fly
but to make a thick layer
on the cave floor, fur and small bones crunched underfoot
by Cavers who tell the Scientists,
who begin to study and count you, carrying the spores on their boots
from cave to cave.
That you starve in your sleep in such numbers you tuft a carpet
of plush, then bones,
that in trying to save you we only spread the disease. That it takes
twelve months to gestate and wean one pup.
That in a single cave your number fell from a quarter million
to thirty-five bats, last year—
make that thirty-four—less tonight’s shy, soft vibration
near my left eyebrow
that sank like a small tangled kite, sick and confused,
into the toilet behind me.
That you were a mother or a father trying to feed your young
who trust you will save them by leaving,
or—like those immigrant children—by sending them away,
children held and fed just long enough
to complete the paperwork to return them to where we won’t
have to watch them die, sent away
like autistic children once were sent away, their flapping hands
unseen, their strange cries unheard.
That, when afraid, we revert to lessons taught in our childhood;
we shrink from the least vibration of air,
we plug our ears and close our eyes against any flailing; we look
away from what we’ve been taught we can’t bear,
we avert our gaze, and when we can, we flush it away.
Rebecca Foust’s most recent book, Paradise Drive, was reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement, San Francisco Chronicle, Philadelphia Inquirer, Georgia Review, Washington Review of Books, and elsewhere. Recognitions include the James Hearst Poetry Prize, the American Literary Review Fiction Prize, the Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Award, fellowships from MacDowell and Sewanee, and recent appointment as poet laureate of Marin County. Foust is the poetry editor and writes a weekly column for Women’s Voices for Change and is an assistant editor reading fiction for Narrative Magazine.