Bats at Sunset

The monster is rotund, vile, enormous, three-muzzled,
and barking
—Vasily Trediakovsky, after Virgil

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep —Robert Frost

Last night the bats were flying so low
that I could see their faces. Each of them
looked like a Soviet relative of mine,
reincarnated in the sunset’s afterglow.

One bat resembled mother’s Auntie Roza.
She taught the factory lads how to use
the Russian language, that métier of Jews,
who thought they could survive like Russians.

Another had the likeness of Auntie Manya,
my father’s aunt who lived and died in Minsk.
She loved extensive stays in Moscow clinics
and never missed a single issue of Pravda.

At sunset bats are ugly, soft, and fast—
like old snapshots of the Soviet past.



The Linguist

for M.J. Connolly

The linguist sees the world
and takes it by the horns,
the linguist loves the word
before the word is born.

The linguist deconstructs
the mystery of sound,
he trusts and yet mistrusts;
he is forever bound.

When worlds fall apart,
when people fail to speak,
the linguist feels a spark.

He knows his sacred place:
by practicing his art
the linguist keeps the peace.



Maxim D. Shrayer is an author and a professor at Boston College. His recent books include Of Politics and Pandemics, a collection of English-language verse, and Stikhi iz aipada, a collection of Russian-language verse. Shrayer’s new memoir, Immigrant Baggage, is forthcoming in 2023. 

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17 Responses

  1. Gerry Poster

    “The Bats” is a marvel; and “The Linguist” a deceptive charmer. Congratulations!

  2. Paul Freeman

    I particularly enjoyed ‘Bats at Sunset’ with its uniqueness and quirkiness.

    Thanks for the reads, Maxim.

  3. Roy Eugene Peterson

    As a retired Russian Foreign Area Officer with Army Military Intelligence branch, I can visualize these “snapshots of the Soviet past.” At various times and in various capacities (commander, executive officer, and debriefer), I was in charge of gleaning military intelligence from those Soviet Jews who were fortunate enough to leave the Soviet Union. As a Russian, German and Vietnamese linguist, I am particularly attracted to “The Linguist.” Nuances, expressions and area identification through colloquialisms were among the many tools I used. I particularly identify with both your poems. By the way, one US Army Attache activity of mine can be found in “American Espionage and the Soviet Target,” by Jeffrey Richelson, that was printed in “Ukrainian Pravda.” My partner and I were accused of taking photos of a military convoy and installation in Rovno, but in fact I was eating mini-Mars bars from a bag, I wonder how they thought we would develop the film?

  4. Piotr Axer

    Thank you, Maxim. “Bats at Sunset” may seem to disassociate from the living present, even when this has passed, yet it does not. The images speak to a living symbol beyond the symbolism for me. These poems are very evocative of the strangeness in living between eras.

  5. David Paul Behrens

    In the summer of 1970, myself and a couple of my buddies swam to a deserted island off the coast of Mazatlan, in Mexico. After deciding to spend the night, we found a huge cave with a high ceiling on the back of the island. The floor of the cave was covered with sand and seemed like the perfect place to sleep until morning. When we woke up around dawn, the entire ceiling of the cave was covered with thousands of sleeping bats. We quietly left and there was no harm done.

  6. C.B. Anderson

    Subtle stuff, Maxim, both in content and technique. I’d like to read a few more.

  7. Geoffrey S.

    The Bats at Sunset is freshly different. Because bats come out of a cave by the hundreds, you should add several more stanzas of people that the old bats represent.

  8. Sally Cook

    An unusual poem about bats. Although I don’t like them, my neighbor does, and a few years ago was encouraging them to hang around – don’t know how she did that. Well, they got into our garbage, and as I put my hand in there it closed on a BAT ! It gave me a bite and flew off ! But the following adventure which involved trying to get the necessary time-sensitive shots. It was a situation somewhat like what happens to you when you try to get an appointment. — lots of talk but little action Still, holding a bat is something almost no one experiences, or ever wants to. Hope no one ever made you kiss one of those old relatives! A striking poem, but made me shiver.

  9. Rita Owens

    Thank you for the beautiful tribute to our colleague, mjc.
    “Bats” is wonderful too.


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