by Cathy Bryant

I’m lying dozing in my room of cold stone in Tuscany,
window open to citrus breezes and the sizzle of cicadas,
when a bat flies in.
He – he is a he, I think blearily – lands on the bed,
hooks himself on, and we regard each other,
visitor bat and me.
Not the young vampire type, he would prefer a fine teacup
to a vein. Nor the big-eared wild-mouse opera sort
but a touch tubby round the middle;
probably a retired librarian.

Judging by my experience of bats,
which is confined to a school trip to a Lancashire mill
now turned museum – desperate that, turning into a museum
– now was it cotton or wool that they milled here, once?
Eh, no matter now which – in one room clinging to nothing
on a wall were tiny black umbrellas
that could have done with a dust.
A child, I longed to touch, but no – “They’re protected,”
hissed the guide proudly in her replica mob cap and shawl,
quite possibly knocked out in some sweatshop.

– judging by that –
the bat on my bed is clearly called Bernard.
We sit and take agreeable interest in each other,
with the silent courtesy and goodwill that are the best
of behaviours, caring nothing for species or voice.
He perches on my old-as-the-villa counterpane
(with the exquisite embroidery, all hand done)
and is resolutely unpredatory, as am I,
mindful of Lawrence so foolish with sticks and stones
and snakes and manliness, and that, for ten minutes or so,
is that.

Then Bernard apologises, takes his leave,
regrets he has another appointment; and I bow to him,
feel misery, loss, clumsy pettiness anyway,
imagining him out dining on fruit or wingèd things
or flying in soft star-pricked air while I lie here,
a great flabby lump of static humanity.
Yet he visited every night that I was there,
for this connection that declines to be named.
It’s not lost, not gone. Just rare.