About this Poem 

"The poem began with a toad. It had been a long time since I’d seen one. Maybe my life had gone in another direction. I followed it deep, into grief and some cold-blooded questions. The poem ends with the same toad."
—Diane Seuss

Toad

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.

Copyright © 2013 by Diane Seuss. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on November 19, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Copyright © 2013 by Diane Seuss. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on November 19, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Diane Seuss

Diane Seuss's second book, Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open (University of Massachusetts Press​, 2010), received the Juniper Prize for Poetry, and her third book, Four-Legged Girl, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2015. She is Writer-in-Residence at Kalamazoo College in Michigan.

by this poet

poem

If there’s pee on the seat it’s my pee,
battery’s dead I killed it, canary at the bottom
of the cage I bury it, like God tromping the sky
in his undershirt carrying his brass spittoon,
raging and sobbing in his Hush Puppy house
slippers with the backs broke down, no Mrs.
God to make