Monday, January 21, 2008

Ted rescues a bat

Here’s an excerpt from “9 Willow Street” in Birthday Letters, the book of poems by Ted Hughes:

Something under the chestnuts
… black, soft, wrinkled,
Was wrestling, somehow, with the fallen
Brown, crumpled lobe of a chestnut leaf.
Suddenly, plainly, it was bat.
A bat fallen out of its tree
Mid-afternoon. A sick bat? I stooped
Thinking I’d lift it again to tree-bark safety.
It reared up on its elbows and snarled at me,
A raving hyena, the size of a sparrow,
Its whole face peeled in a snarl, fangs tiny.
I tried to snatch it up by the shoulders
But it spun, like a fighter, behind its snarl.

A crowd collected, entertained to watch me
Fight a bat on Boston Common. Finally
I had to give it my finger.
Let the bite lock. Then, cradling it,
Gently lifted it and offered it up
To the wall of chestnut bark. It released me
And scuttled upwards backwards, face downwards,
A rearguard snarl, triumphant, contorted …

What a mensch. But, uh, Ted, you let it bite you? Not till he gets home does he remember, American bats have rabies.

Naturally, the encounter is highly symbolic, and Ted makes sure we don’t get away from the poem without a good talking to about it, but I won’t go down that path.

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