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Poetry Feature: “Aubade in Which the Bats Tried to Warn Me” by Traci Brimhall

Aubade in Which the Bats Tried to Warn Me

You used to recite the parts of my body like psalms.

I should have known when you started to kiss

with your eyes closed that your mouth would ruin us.

 

And I should have known when you slipped belladonna

in my buttonholes, when you started to bring me empty boxes,

when I found her dog asleep under our house.

 

She told me about someone she’d been sleeping with, and the someone

was you. At first, I didn’t tell you I knew. I came home,

and you were slicing rhubarb

 

and strawberries. You put sugared hands on my neck

and kissed my forehead.No, it happened like this.

When you fucked me, I could feel

 

how much you hated me. And you came. And I came twice. You stayed

on top of me and softened inside me as you kissed

my shoulders. I stayed awake to watch

 

you sleep and thought about the stories your parents told about you.

The wildfire you started. How you broke your mother’s birdhouses.

How your father paid you to kill bats,

 

a dollar a body. Last summer you let me watch.

As you waited with a racket, timber wolves announced

the moon, bats crept out of the attic.

 

The soft pulp of their bodies struck the house. Your father swatted

your back, handed you five bucks, and I went to pick up

the bats. One still shuddered

 

against the cinderblock. I should have left, but I didn’t. I crushed

its head with a rock and tossed it into the woods and went inside

and washed my hands and lied to you.

 *

Hannah Thompson (Poetry Editor): Brimhall deftly handles intimate moments of violence and betrayal, and then wraps those moments in overwhelming silence. The poem is nothing but silence and omissions—the silence of the beloved on his affair, the omission of who the friend is sleeping with, all culminating and compounding on the speaker’s reluctance to acknowledge the betrayal. Instead, she remembers the ugliest parts of the speaker—his destructive relationship with nature and animals. In the end, the silence is only momentarily punctured by the sound of his racket swinging into the bats and then “the soft pulp of their bodies [striking] the house.”

*

This poem appeared in Indiana Review 31.1 in Summer of 2009. 

Traci Brimhall is the author of Saudade (Copper Canyon, 2017), Our Lady of the Ruins (W.W. Norton, 2012), and Rookery (Southern Illinois University Press, 2010). Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Slate, Poetry, The Believer, The New Republic, and Best American Poetry. She’s received fellowships from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and the National Endowment for the Arts. She’s an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Kansas State University.

 

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