Apr. 7, 2009

Thoreau and the Toads

by David Wagoner

After the spring thaw, their voices ringing
    At dusk would beckon him through the meadow
        To the edge of their pond where, barefoot,
He would wade slowly into the water
    And stand there in the last of light
        To see the mating toads—a hundred or more
In the shallows around him, ignoring him
    Or taking him for another, inflating
        The pale-green bubbles of their throats to call
For buffo terrestris, leaping half out of the pool
    And scrambling to find partners. The atmosphere
        Would quiver with their harmonic over-
And undertones, with their loud, decent proposals
Like the sounds of a church potluck, their invocations
        And offertories for disorderly conduct,
With the publishing of their indelicate banns
And blessings to the needy in their distress
        And benedictions even beyond springtime
To all those of the faith. And he would see
Among this communal rapture, there underwater,
The small grey males lying silent
On the backs of females, holding on
    To their counterparts with every slippery finger
        And toe, both motionless, both gazing
Inward at the Indivisible
    And rising from time to time together
        To the surface only an inch above them
To breathe, then settling again and staring
    With such a consciousness of being
        Common American toads, he would stand beside them,
As content as they were with their medium
    Of exchange, the soles of his feet trembling
        With a resonance he could feel deep in his spine,
Believing this mud could be his altar too,
    And his pulpit, where all of his intentions
        Would be as clear as theirs, as clear as the air
In the chill of the fading light. He would lift
    His bare feet gently and silently, making scarcely
        A ripple, balancing
Himself onto the grass and, while his brethren
    Like a drunken choir went on
        And on without him, would sit down
Vibrant on the earth and once again struggle
    Into his stockings, into his waterproof boots,
        And straighten and square-knot his rawhide laces.

"Thoreau and the Toads" by David Wagoner, from The House of Song. © University of Illinois Press, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, born in Detroit, Michigan (1939). By the time he was 30, he was $300,000 in debt and it seemed like his career as a filmmaker was over. Then he was offered the job of directing a mobster movie: The Godfather (1972), which was a huge success.

It was on this day in 1927 that an audience in New York saw an image of Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover in the first successful long-distance demonstration of television. Hoover was speaking in Washington, D.C. He was sitting too close to the camera, so the broadcast began with a close-up of Hoover's forehead, but he backed up and delivered his speech.

It's the birthday of the man who wrote, "My heart leaps up when I behold/A rainbow in the sky": the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth, (books by this author) born in Cockermouth, England (1770).

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