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The Friday Poem: ‘Toads’ by Fleur Adcock

A poem by the great Fleur Adcock from her book Collected Poems, launched this week.

 

Toads

 

Let’s be clear about this: I love toads.

 

So when I found our old one dying,

washed into the drain by flood-water

in the night and then – if I can bring myself

to say it – scalded by soapy lather

I myself had let out of the sink,

we suffered it through together.

 

It was the summer of my father’s death.

I saw his spirit in every visiting creature,

in every small thing at risk of harm:

bird, moth, butterfly, beetle,

the black rabbit lolloping along concrete,

lost in suburbia; and our toad.

 

If we’d seen it once a year that was often,

but the honour of being chosen by it

puffed us up: a toad of our own

trusting us not to hurt it

when we had to lift it out of its den

to let the plumber get at the water-main.

 

And now this desperate damage: the squat

compactness unhinged, made powerless.

Dark, straight, its legs extended,

flippers paralysed, it lay lengthwise

flabby-skinned across my palm,

cold and stiff as the Devil’s penis.

 

I laid it on soil; the shoulders managed

a few slow twitches, pulled it an inch forward.

But the blowflies knew: they called it dead

and stippled its back with rays of pearly stitching.

Into the leaves with it then, poor toad,

somewhere cool, where I can’t watch it.

 

Perhaps it was very old? Perhaps it was ready?

Small comfort, through ten guilt-ridden days.

And then, one moist midnight, out in the country,

a little shadow shaped like a brown leaf

hopped out of greener leaves and came to me.

Twice I had to lift it from my doorway:

 

a gently throbbing handful – calm, comely,

its feet tickling my palm like soft bees.

Perhaps it was very old? Perhaps it was ready?

Small comfort, through ten guilt-ridden days.

And then, one moist midnight, out in the country,

a little shadow shaped like a brown leaf

hopped out of greener leaves and came to me.

Twice I had to lift it from my doorway:

a gently throbbing handful – calm, comely,

its feet tickling my palm like soft bees.

 

Fleur Adcock, 2019

 

Editor’s note: ‘Toads’ appears in Fleur’s new book Collected Poems (Victoria University Press, $40). Fleur was overwhelmed by the prospect of choosing a single poem from this 550-page collection for The Friday Poem, so asked me to select one on her behalf. It had to be ‘Toads’. —Ashleigh Young

 

Spinoff poetry editor Ashleigh Young welcomes submissions for The Friday Poem at thefridaypoem@gmail.com


The Spinoff Review of Books is proudly brought to you by Unity Books.


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