So bats conceived you, just as much as Tom?
They stayed, and came again, as many nights
as Tom and Martha did. Like living scarves,
they veiled the windshield while my parents loved.
You'd call that love? I dreamed their wedding white.
"I d-d-do," his stutter, fluttered, spat
at Martha's heart. Her muttered echo stirred
the womb they both assumed was bare, no spark
But there I germinated, net
of cells and maps of capillary starred
Mother said the wedding march
attracted bats. They charged above the cars
and surged into the crowd, that scattered, lurched,
and scourged them with corsages. Like a scar,
she drew them in. They chased her from the church.
You must have learned of heroes before words.
The nursery I was raised in—arsenal,
where suits of armor rusted to their swords
and soldered armies swarmed before their lord,
myself. I crawled along embroidered snarls
of women woven into carpets dull
from centuries of knees. Their eyeholes bored
into my feet. I felt them. Paintings glared
above—the ancient Waynes, whose perfect scowls
were turning, as they cracked, into the smiles
At dinner time, a shadow dawned
along my back and drowned the battlefield.
I'd shrink in Mother's shade, her giant hand
a wing I took, that shook, eclipsed and chilled
my own. I loved the Cornish game hens, tan
on silver plates, like torsos on their shields.
Did all your heroes come out of the dark?
We went to Gotham Theater to see
The Mark of Zorro. Tyrone Power wore
the name and cape, eclipsing every score
with gunfire. Such a sweet and distant screen—
I felt the world contract to him and me.
My mother's screams, my father's drunken snore
were shams, or dreams, as blurry as their scars
are now. But then, across the screen, a vein
of darkness ran, like ink, its tip a blade.
Some vandal slashed the screen? Then ran away.
They didn't stop the movie? No, it played,
and Zorro wore a moving wound. Then? Stay
in this, a second. Feel the urge to pray
to him? He's only light, though. So is day.
What heroes nursed you in the orphanage?
In Father's leather book of doctor lore—
the bat-masked shaman. Rattles in his wings,
he'd zoom into the spirit world, to bring
the fever-driven patient back to ours.
In Gotham, shaman meant machine—the car,
the cinema, where newsreels lit the flings
of holy criminals who battled gangs,
who went by vigilante. And they were
the Shadow? Traveled under every street
with .45s to light his way through hell.
And Phantom? Pantomimed him overseas
on battlefields tiled with Nazi skulls.
And Batman? No. Not him. In violet sheets,
I'd imitate their magic. Heal by veil? No. Heal by kill.
These four sonnets come from a longer
sequence that constitutes a conversation between Bruce Wayne (Batman) and Selina Kyle (Catwoman). Selina's parts are italicized, the idea being that she woke him up from a nightmare and he's narrating it in pieces. The nightmare happens to be his life, but he can't tell her that, or she'll figure out that he's Batman. Also, they're both roiling with sexual tension.
The sequence comes from my infatuation with sexy comic book villainesses, who, for awhile, seemed safer than real women. They're not, but I found that out in time, and everything has turned out okay.
The Shadow and the Phantom were two of the first vigilante heroes, starring in pulp magazines and radio shows way back when. They're also roiling with sexual tension.