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Eating a Toad

by David Wagoner


Each morning when we wake
, said Emile Zola,
    We must eat our daily toad. We have to face being
            Merely ourselves again, not less revolting
Dream selves. But consider those toads who have gone
    Far, far out of their ways to be disgusting,
            To warn all predators they’re not simply
Inedible, but can make a poisonous mouthful,
    Which as a first line of defense is as good as most
            Last lines. Almost nothing on earth
Will willingly and knowingly eat a toad
    Except a hedgehog, a creature
            Of modest habits and even more
Modest intentions. It moves slowly
    In a semi-private world it must surely wish
            Were even more private. Because it can outrun
So few others among the living, it settles
    For legless or torpid insects, dozing snakes,
            Or birds’ eggs it can always depend on
To hold still. It can’t see far enough
    Ahead or behind to avoid the foxes and badgers
            And dogs that would eat it in spite
Of its rough spines and its inconvenient tactic
    Of curling its body into a tight
            Unmanageable ball
And playing dead, and so, long before now,
    It would have been more scarce than the likes
            (And the admirably articulated dislikes)
Of Emile Zola if it hadn’t had the foresight
    To overtake occasionally a complacent
            Toad, chew down that nearly lethal morsel,
And be heartily sick of it, foam at the mouth,
     Then carefully lick itself all over
            With the results: the awful armor of Toadhood.

 

David Wagoner teaches at the University of Washington. He has published seventeen books of poems—most recently The House of Song (University of Illinois, 2002)—and ten novels, one of which, The Escape Artist, was made into a film by Francis Ford Coppola. He has won the Lily Prize and many others and has twice been nominated for the National Book Award. He was a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets for twenty-three years and the editor of Poetry Northwest until its end in 2002. (5/03)


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