Suzette Bishop

Ode to a Villanelle Mason

Mason writes villanelles.  That is, when he’s not showing up at my door in overalls to catch and release a bat.  He works as a maintenance man for the realtor that manages my apartment.

This sleepy morning I stumbled into the bathroom to find a slip-sliding scratching and slapping of wings in the toilet bowl as the bat tried to keep from falling into the water.  I ran screaming from the bathroom, slamming the door behind me.  I called my old housemate a few doors down to use her bathroom and shower.  Then I called the realtor.

When I can’t be there to let Mason in (he has a key), he leaves me notes addressed to “Bat Girl.”  On those days, I don’t know if he takes a short-cut rather than using a net, scooping up my latest guest and taking him or her outside.  Maybe he hits them “upside the head” with a shovel as the boyfriend of the lady at the animal control hotline suggested I try when she consulted him about my bat problem.  Somehow, I don’t think that’s Mason’s style.

I’m still eternally grateful to Hotline Lady and Boyfriend for staying with me on the line that night, but, no, their solution is not for me, either.  First of all, I don’t own a shovel, and second of all, my winged, late-night date swooping over my bed stretched over a foot-and-a-half in wingspan.  I don’t think a shovel would have done the trick.  And there was no way I was coming out from under my quilt, anyway.  And then no way I was going into the living room after he slid out the door and I slammed it shut.  Call it a lovers’ quarrel.

The one hanging upside-down from the countertop near the front door was sort of cute.  Her dachshund-like head lifted, ears twitching as my boyfriend and I slipped past for our date, almost motherly, “Don’t stay out past midnight, you hear?” my boyfriend holding up his hand to reassure her or keep her at bay.  She stayed up, keeping her radar trained on us.

Mason had to collect the dead ones, too.  My neighbor came home from work to find one decomposing on her kitchen table. Maybe the one today drowned before Mason got there.  All I know is it was gone once I got home from work.

My neighbor and I had lunch to exchange bat stories.  She was from Canada, a nurse working on her PhD and writing a dissertation comparing Canada and the United States’ healthcare systems.

“Canada’s is much better,” she said as she smoked a pipe.  Since she’d been a nurse, I figured she’d want to hear all about my recent bout of mono.  She didn’t.  And by the way, was the neighbor living above her stealing her clothes out of the dryer, too?  No, just mine, including a favorite pale green sundress he eventually returned.

What I really wanted to know was whether or not Mason left her notes addressed to “Bat Girl.”   I’m pretty sure he didn’t.

There was an open flue, bats flying down a chimney, squeezing into our basement apartments through small holes.  It wasn’t Mason who came by to patch up the holes, trapping some bats in the walls, their high-pitched rasps dying away over the next few days.

I missed him.  And I missed the one I named Uncle Wally.  Like the uncle who falls asleep in the recliner at family gatherings, he’d settled in, upside-down, on a spot on the wall, folded himself up neatly, dripping guano onto the carpet.  He pulsed slowly with sleep, a perfectly timed beat Mason knew how to net in one swoop and release into a sweetgum’s thickness of leaves.


Suzette Bishop teaches at Texas A&M International University in Laredo. She has published three poetry books and two chapbooks, including her most recent chapbook, Jaguar’s Book of the Dead. Her poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies. She lives with her husband and two cats.



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