Rebecca Foust

Little Brown Bat

​1.

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.

2.

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.

3.

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