Toad Poem by Diane Seuss


The grief, when I finally contacted it
decades later, was black, tarry, hot,
like the yarrow-edged side roads
we walked barefoot in the summer.

Sometimes we'd come upon a toad
flattened by a car tire, pressed into
the softened pitch, its arms spread out
a little like Jesus, and it was now

part of the surface of the road, part
of the road's story. Then there was
the live toad I discovered under
the poison leaves of the rhubarb,

hiding there among the ruby stems,
and if you ate those stems raw,
enough of them, you'd shit yourself
for days. It isn't easy to catch a living

thing and hold it until it pees on you
in fear. Its skin was the dull brown
of my father's clothes, my grandfather's
clothes as he stood behind the barber's

chair, clipping sideburns, laying a warm
heap of shaving cream over a bristly chin,
sharpening his straight razor and swiping it
over the foam-covered cheek of my father,

who often shaved twice a day, his beard
was so obstinate, even in the hospital bed.
When I laid a last kiss on his young cheek,
the scraping hurt my lips. Do you ever

wonder, in your heart of hearts,
if God loves you, if the angels love you,
scowling, holding their fiery swords,
radiating green light? If your father

loved you, if he had room to love you,
given his poverty and suffering, or if
a coldness had set in, a cold-bloodedness,
like Keats at the end, wanting a transfusion

of the reader's life blood so he could live
again. Either way, they're all safely
underground, their gentleness or ferocity,
their numb love, and my father's

tar-colored hair, and the fibers of his good
suit softened by wood tannins,
and grandfather's glass eye with its
painted-on mud-colored iris,

maybe all that's left of him in that walnut
box, and Keats and his soft brown clothes,
and the poets before and after him.
But their four-toed emissary sits

in my hand. I feel the quickening pulse
through its underbelly. Hooded eyes,
molasses-tinged, unexpressive,
the seam of its mouth glued shut.

Error Success