Little Fires

Little Fires

I.

There are witnesses. There were plans:
Bats would be eased into cold sleep
deep in the bellies of bombers,
strapped with incendiary explosives
the size and shape of their young,
so as not to alarm, but rather, when warmed
and wakened, encourage their swift flights
to safety beneath the eaves of paper houses,
balsa wood shops, and flammable factories.
So, when their time was up, the bombs
would set off a holocaust of small blazes
across Japan. That was the plan,
and in the trials a million little fires
burst, flamed, then cooled to carbon.
But Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition:
the A-bomb came along to "save more lives."


II.

Sometimes the Lord moves in mysterious ways
his wonders to perform. Sometimes He gives.
Sometimes He takes. Sometimes He leaves
the job to his followers. Let him who is without sin
throw the first hammer blow and drive the first nail
to close over the only opening they know: high above
the stained-glass Jesus with his white lambs and benevolence.
Let him who knows the mind of God climb up
to detonate the poison bombs, drop them inside,
and set the final nail. Come ye who love the Lord
and let your joy, and let your joy be known
at the screams of the beasts, damned to asphyxiation
because one was lost but now is found, cold and dead,
in the children's Sunday school room, to demonstrate
like a Bible story flannel board how being where one
should not be brings destruction on all one's kind.
Let the faithful stand and be counted like every sparrow
and each numbered hair on each small brown face
pressed against the screen, then falling, falling out of sight,
layer upon layer--two hundred bats or more--snuffed,
then shoveled out, bagged, and dragged to the incinerator.

Let there be a witness. Let it be me. I was the pastor's good wife,
who was not good, who did not speak up, who did not speak out.
Here, I give testimony to their pleading and clawing,
their helpless young clinging, naked and pink,
to their soft undersides. Thirty years, now, and still I weep.
How is it that a true soldier ever sleeps soundly again
with what was nailed over and boarded up,
what was left inside to die? Blessed be the cursed.
And pitied be the bats: feared because they are not beauty,
hated because they subsist on what we detest, what we don't want
anyway, dispensable because they are legion and strange
and do not sing or show bright colors, but are dark
and seek the deeper darkness for their rounds of necessary mercy.


III.

Ghostly in the headlights' glare, chickweed and foxtail
crowd this moonless lane that digs like half-formed memory
between forgetful hills. A bat, two, drop into sight
then shoot straight up like quicksilver moths
beyond the limits of the beams. Another dives
and flies directly at my windshield, but rises sharply
as ash from a wind-killed ember. Mysterious color
of nothing special, a possum ambles in his graceless,
four-handed way along this familiar curve. He disappears
into cinereal straw at the side of the road, pausing
to glance back just once, his eyes black as accusations.