From the sequel to A Radiance


I have caught many bats;
it is simple enough to fill
one toe of a discarded
pair of pantyhose
with a palm-full of sand.
Tie it off with string so that
a sock becomes a shuttle-cock.

Set yourself beneath
a jaundiced street-light,
beneath the darting shapes of moths
and wait for larger shade to flit
Between you and the light.

Toss your gentle burden then,
and be prepared to catch the falling bundle
of snarled paper wings and claws.
It lands in your palm,
the size of a small paperback
though lighter in weight.

Wide veined wings that, in lamplight,
are delicate as mesh, as medieval vellum,
writ through with long quill-like bones.
A miniscule body wrapped round in soft fur,
the texture of napped velvet.

I will never forget the rich, fruity smell
the creature had, like apples found in the bracken
at the tail end of autumn; such delicate rot.

The creature I found
in the daylight was different.

A month after I arrived,
when the pain was still vivid
and I fell asleep every night
after the others were done with me,
curled in bed crying and missing my dog,
I came back from the fields a little bit early.

A cut on my palm had split open again,
releasing ill-colored fluids and a stench
That even the foreman could not ignore.

I was an hour early and I knew
that the housemother, the proper one
back now from the hospital,
was laid up in her room watching
As the World Turns and nursing her hip.

I waited outside, beneath her window,
knowing that I would have the opportunity
to read for a few minutes if I snuck
into the house after she started to snore.

I spent the time in aimless looking,
longing for the novel I’d hidden
in the frame of my bed.
The yard was full of scatty crabgrass,
only the visible lawns were ever manicured.

In the centre was a large, tall oak
with a gnarled root system,
one protuberance of which resembled
the sleek head of a wolf.

This creature frightened me,
though I still spoke to it.
All trees were my friends then,
I needed protection.

I bent to the brown earth near its jaws,
avoiding a sharp splintered root-tooth,
and cleared the acid soil from its tongue
saying, ‘Do you feel better, Wolfie?

Next time I have meat,
I’ll save some for you,
if you will help me get some
before the other girls eat all of it.’

A slight shift in cloudscape threw
a shadow on the head, creating
the hint of a smile.
I felt better already, filled
with the possibility of future
after-meal fullness.

I looked up at that moment, past
the trunk, a surface riven and split
like a three-year-dry riverbed,
at the wall of the cottage.

There, beside the painted lead drainpipe,
a black shape was clinging
to an outcrop of gray stone.

A bat, quite a small one, hanging
head downward and visibly shivering.
It felt cool in my hand, light as nothing.
It clung across the split in my palm.

I knew it was sick.
I thought, ‘I can help you.’
God help me.
I thought, ‘If you are hungry
there are bugs in the yard.’

I noticed the smell
was different immediately;
more cloying, more viscous,
it caught in my throat
as though all the mass
that was once inside it
had moved to the air.
A nimbus of odor.

Inclining my head to the window
I heard a deep snore.

I turned the knob slowly,
muffling my entrance
as much as I could and creeped
to my unlockable room.

It was virtually empty.

Two beds, desks, a chest of drawers,
my black plywood trunk.

I laid the bat on my bed, on top
of the itchy polyester coverlet,
and opened the trunk-lid.

The outside was shiny, edged in chrome.
The inside was papered in round, red flowers
which might have been poppies.

My clothes were mostly gone from it.
There was my extra blanket,
the Nike shoebox I found on the road,
filled with the shredded remains
of my family pictures and the torn edges
of my fathers halted letters.

I could not throw them away.
Sometimes a face, or fragment
of word, was still partly visible.

The pieces had been made soft
enough in their destruction
to form a good nest.

I lay the bat among the fragments,
offered it water-drops
that it would not take
from the palm of my uninjured hand.
I thought, ‘Later on
I will see about crickets.’

I placed the box into the trunk,
without fully shutting the lid.
I wanted to let the air in so that
it could breathe without that foul smell.

I got through dinner imagining its rehabilitation.
I would heal it; of course it would love me.
I would train it to fly in circles above my head.
It would summon its friends to dive-bomb my enemies.
I would never be lonely, or hungry, again.

I ate fast, thinking this, able to keep hold
of at least some of my rationed chicken.
Even if the bigger girls were able
to snag away most of my meal. I pocketed
a fragment of skin, a splinter of bone marrow,
an offering for my friend in the yard.
A thanks unto God.

I had five minutes free before bed,
my roommate was showering and for once
had not forced me to go with her.
I opened my trunk with my bandaged,
newly disinfected hand.

Of course it was dead.

I know now that it had probably been rabid.
Only God knows how lucky I was,
and how my luck continued.
I left it there to mummify
among the fragments of my family,
the papers proved absorbent;
it desiccated neat as a fig,

drying into a small folded kite
of leather and wood that I took out and stroked
when I needed to be touched by something
and couldn’t sneak out to the barn to play with the cows.

Eventually my housemother found it
while I was at work or school.
She liked to have the occasional surprise inspection,
loved confiscating things and displaying the evidence,
with the children who hoarded them, to visitors
who frequently came from the churches
that provided funding for the orphans.

Presbyterians like to know
what they are paying for.
They tend to like visible results
that they can count out by hand.

It was a wonder to me that the housemother,
thorough as she was, never found
my roommates metal-handled switchblade
or her small store of condoms.

She had hidden them badly,
in her top drawer, barely
covered by the underwear
that she was allowed to have-
a forbidden luxury I envied.

The dried bat and my papers
went into the collection she kept for the sponsors.
I was trotted out weekly, along with my box, displaying
the heathenism she worked so hard to convert.
My intractable nature was good justification
for the salary she drew, the food she consumed.

A mark went into my file,
and I was given a punishment.
Three extra hours, spent every weekend,
scrubbing on my hands and knees
the cement laundry room floor.


About Bethany W Pope

Bethany W Pope was named by the Huffington Post as ‘one of the five Expat poets to watch in 2016’. Nicholas Lezard, writing for The Guardian, described her latest collection as 'poetry as salvation'.....'This harrowing collection drawn from a youth spent in an orphanage delights in language as a place of private escape.' Bethany has won many literary awards and published several collections of poetry. Her first novel, Masque, was published by Seren in 2016. Her second novel, Ordinary Lives: The Ballad of John and Mary, was published in 2018. Follow her on Twitter @BethanyWPope

Posted on August 21, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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