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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

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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.


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

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