Joel Chace

Before He Betrayed Her

1. Anima

Do they ever think about it anymore—
that evening when the bat materialized?

In the front bedroom's half-dark
she felt the black little wave of air
lift her forearm's hair and brush her cheek.

They readied themselves with tennis racket, broom,
and stalked for thirty minutes, never once
touching it, until it tired of banging
from one wall to another and just slid
to the floor. Where, somehow,
they threw a wicker basket over it.

"Get the dictionary," he said.
"The dictionary?"
"Yeah. The big one from the den."

So she went, wondering if there'd be
a bat page there, with color illustrations,
Latin names, and maybe even tips
on what they should do next.

But when she handed him the book, he just
stared at it for a second; then—
quicker than she'd ever seen him move—
he flung the basket and instantly brought
the dictionary down
on the exhausted animal.

At first he only held it there, but then
leaned on the hard, brown cover
more and more of his weight,
until he rose to stand on all those words.

2. Fury

So instant, huge, clear-sighted, hard,
it claws its way right through the windowpane.

A will like lightning's. The thousand shards
explode like water leaping
the cataract's verge, but seen from a slow distance.

Two hours to pick the gashes clean: fingers,
palm, wrist, forearm, elbow. Fifty stitches.

The coming night: shame,
pain, and loneliness, as gauzes
soak the quieted blood.

Well. No unpardonable word or shrapnel hurled;
no one there adept at harnessing rage—

sustaining, honing—
till walls come down and cities fly apart.
The scars, though, will be purple, ridged with white.

Copyright 1995, Joel Chace

Red Ghost was awarded the First Persephone Press Book Award in 1992 and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize that same year. Court of Ass-sizes, from Big Easy Press, appeared in 1995. Twentieth Century Deaths was released this summer from Singular Speech Press. This poem appeared in Court of Ass-sizes.

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