Randolph Healy, "Frogs"

Poem online here at Salt. From the collection, Green 532.


    On a grassy hill, in a luxury seminary in Glenart,
    I found, screened by trees,
    a large stone pond.
    The waters of solitude.

    ten thousand times older than humanity,
    the galaxy has rotated almost twice
    since they first appeared.

    They get two grudging notices in the Bible:
    Tsephardea in Exodus,
    Batrachos in the Apocalypse.
    I will smite all thy borders with frogs.
    I saw three unclean spirits, like frogs.

    Their numbers have been hugely depleted,
    principally by students.

    Sever its brain.
    The frog continues to live.
    It ceases to breathe, swallow or sit up
    and lies quietly if thrown on its back.
    Locomotion and voice are absent.
    Suspend it by the nose,
    irritate the breast, elbow and knee with acid.
    Sever the foot that wipes the acid away.

    It will grasp and hang from your finger.

    There is evidence that they navigate
    by the sun and the stars.

    This year, thirty–two, I said
    "I'll be damned if Maureen has frogs"
    and dug a pond.
    Over eighty hatched, propped up with cat food.
    Until the cats ate them.
    It was only weeks later we discovered
    six shy survivors.

    The hieroglyph
    for the number one hundred thousand
    is a tadpole.

    Light ripples down a smooth back.
    La grenouille.


Noisy animals, toads and frogs have a history of singing in lyric, one step behind the birds, from Ancient Greece to A Tribe Called Quest's "After hours". The first three lines enact a kind of roaming-in, from grassy hill to stone pond: "The waters of solitude." Those Romantic waters where oft one wanders; "Friends", those people with whom we like to spend time & forget about all that solitude business. But "Friends" seems to link, despite the full stop, to "Patriarchs," who are perhaps addressees, or the frogs, probably both - aeons of frogs.

The poet, obviously captivated, looks them up in the Bible and only finds two references. Both of them put-downs. Then comes the shock – how useful frogs are for dissection and experiment. The length and precision of the details in this section of the poem tip the balance forever – from the cheeky scholarship and admiration of frogs, towards:

    Suspend it by the nose,
    irritate the breast, elbow and knee with acid.
    Sever the foot that wipes the acid away.

Then there are those who go round dissecting poems - cough, cough - though I would hope to see these "responses" as drawing arrows in and out at the margins, rather than severing any brains. Healy leaps around the subject; frogs as recorders, as connected to the universe and its great necessities, "There is evidence that they navigate / by the sun and the stars." Then a narrator appears and tells a short tale of building a pond and an ensuing cat massacre. "six shy survivors" has a stark but still froggy clarity. Then comes a beautiful piece of information:

    The hieroglyph
    for the number one hundred thousand
    is a tadpole.

It catches you slightly sideways. A lyric number, one hundred thousand, brought back to be a squirming multitude. Then the frog is seen again, before getting translated (into French, hmm?), then, "Gone"

By arranging his snippets of information – a dissection of dissection methods, a tiny tale, little leaps into lyric – just so, Healy writes an elegant-limbed poem, not settled into any genre. That the only line of frog-description comes at the end, "a smooth back", should signal how far this is from any familiar mode of spotter's-guide nature poetry.

© Melissa Flores-Bórquez 2006

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