With a broken-down oven, in a hotel kitchen, on an uninhabited island
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And how bewildered is any womb-born creature that has to fly.
— Rainer Maria Rilke
The bats who hang in the dark, chittering
from our eaves, seem
members of our house we haven’t
yet had time to name. We feel them
in the night air around us and catch
a glimpse of the movement
of their wings in the half-light of the moon.
Mouse angels I have called them,
terrifying and warm and mythical,
seeming almost terrified themselves,
skittering after the echoes of
their own voices homing in
on the smaller creatures of the night
and also larger winged beings, hunting
their bat blood to stay alive.
This morning I found one of them asleep,
hanging from the inside of a window screen
in our half-dark bedroom, and
wondered how it had gotten in and
why it wasn’t sleeping with the other
members of its choir, if it had been
expelled or simply gotten lost.
I covered it with a child’s
plastic drinking cup and slid a large
jack-of-diamonds playing card under
the lip, then I carried it out to the yard.
The bat landed on its back, spreading
the intricate framework of its wings
to right itself while I waited
to see if it could fly, as I remembered reading
that rabid bats can’t, and how my friend Ted,
having been bitten trying to help a fallen bat,
had needed a battery of painful injections to
sear the rabies away.
The bat struggled up on its pinions,
dragging itself through the grass as if
trying to reach me for help,
but I, fearing disease and for our dogs,
killed it with a shovel, not then knowing
that a bat can’t take flight from the ground,
must have a perch to receive the
grace of air under its wings. I could have
released it in the crotch of a tree, on a
window ledge. . . .
I picked up the skin of a ripped balloon
on the tip of the shovel and
carried it to the trash, protecting
our house and this faltering world
from what may have been just the
physics of being a bat. Maybe
the world won’t miss one bat. Maybe
I did the right thing. But the world, my world,
is missing it, crawling toward me for life.