Bird of Evening
Pippistrellus pippistrellus, family Vespertilionidae
The rescued bat nestled, dark and resolute, eyes closed,
slow heart beating beneath furry brown chest,
inside a cardboard shoebox Timothy brought to school.
We crowded round, camouflaged in silence, the boy’s instinct-awake,
weightless fingers, more precise than any geisha’s, fanned out
the span of the sectioned, leathery wing.
He wouldn’t let me touch, though I edged my ear and nose near
to smell, to listen. I’d heard about that impossibly high note.
He knew where the cloud of bats roosted, nodded I could tag
along later, if I was quiet, didn’t bother him or the bat.
After sunset, at the roost, lid raised, the bat flap-fluttered away.
No hesitation. Echolocation. I wanted to stay in the dark
with this sinew of boy, explore feral territories he didn’t need to be taught.
But we were only eight and the most he promised,
going home, was a chance to hold his older brother’s snake.
When we first met, you corrected my spelling.
You shrugged, denim shoulders rising
level with your Easy Rider glasses:
two important words, else I wouldn’t bother.
Later your postcard arrived. You wrote you’d been ill,
had a stay in psych hospital—
it lets you know who your friends are.
Your script was the same as ever,
thin, looped, long drops, tall highs.
I was too slow to reply—ruffled
by your attempt to kiss me
that last time we met—
your eyes false-glitter bright,
toes shifting left and right
to your inner repetitive beats,
moustache bristling, stray hairs tickling
up your nostrils—you’d rub your nose fiercely,
without staunching your words—
farsighted, interdisciplinary, mixed media, your talk
jazzed by tracks—Gil Evans, Aphex Twin,
Shakatak, we must just hear this now.
Existence, Essence, those words you corrected,
did they lose their meaning,
one day when your beat was relentless
when your high windows opened
over ground that pulsed hypnotically,
while we, me, who’d forgot the word friend,
stayed cloistered at home, stayed safe.
Small tasks stitch us to this day.
These are the ways we navigate
when no map of the distressed area—
sheared cliff or drowned meadow—exists.
When sudden shifts in landmass shake
us, when we stumble in the unexpected
sinkhole, our sight elsewhere.
A helping hand, and friends believe
us rescued, back on firm land.
Aside from needing their hands forever—
skein of skin-on-skin tethers our estranged
body, which performs
movements, intricate and momentous, walks
the now-foreign land of supermarket aisles,
fingers pressing pears, lightbulb-bright,
for ripeness. Sinkholes re-appear,
open up, no warning:
remnant, revenant, reminder—
a coat they wore, a waft of sandalwood—
carries them back over and over,
from some other territory, who knows where,
radiant in ways we were never wise to before.
We keep roving through starless nights,
motion and darkness familiar, ignoring the raw
jagged land, how cracks in desiccated hearts
are spreading contiguous. Seedlings
will be planted again. Hands soiled with life.
You would expect it.
Small tasks thread then to now, now to then,
put out birdseed, sweep the path,
repair our unravelling
fibres and fascia, our wine-dark
darned and altered raiment.
Ruby Shifrin studied art. She writes letters, short stories, and poems. She loves flora, fauna, and the light on the coast. Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Harbor Review, Hole in the Head Review, Passengers Journal, and The Westchester Review.