The toad shook off two snowy
eyebrows with a sudden twitch.
Mud shivered in the blowy
balm, rippled the juicy ditch.
Toad popped its eyes awake,
tapped by a warm green witch
and listened for the snake
between the lines, between
the woods and the lip of the lake.

The snake wiped itself clean
against a brand new blade
of grass, and practiced looking mean.
Scales, skin newly-made,
wet with excitement and tight
on the courage of the unafraid,
tongue flapping a small red kite,
snake kept its body low
in wait, and saved its bite.

The toad, heavy and slow
with eggs, had to cross the line
between new waters and old snow.

How could a snake pine
sentimentally for what
its gut demanded by design?

Snake brain cracked like a nut.
Coiled venom, raging spit
leapt from the rut
and took the toad, near all of it
into the mouth.  But deep
the toad moan would not fit
nor drift to easy sleep
down in the snake.  It caught high
in the maw, swimming to keep

alive.  The monster that followed
was dreadful to see, as it tried
to get into, get out of, the hollow–

a birth in reverse, blaming the sky
for being unable to swallow
for being unable to die.
(This poem was composed after actually witnessing the snake/toad event and posted two spring equinoxes ago. I’m posting it now as I greet autumn, for my Southern Hemisphere readers who are greeting spring. I was surprised to find that it works for me, either way, as an “equinox feeling”.)

57 responses »

  1. Pages 22-24: I wonder whether the snake eventually managed to swallow the toad. Generally they do but oh how the toad cries for help! Your poem is choc full of memorable phrases; “lip of the lake”, “tight with the courage of the unafraid” and so on.. I count this one as another winner.

    • You make me smile, Jane, as you signal the pages from my book, when I repost. In this particular case, I grabbed a nearby twig and tapped the snake with it, (I have learned over time that the snakes we have around here are more afraid of me, than I of them) whereupon it did release the toad. You’re right, about the toad crying for help, it’s a horrible sound. When the toad came out of the snake’s mouth in this instance, its body was incredibly elongated, looked like a section of garden hose. Somehow its legs began to reappear and it was able to escape into the undergrowth. I like to think it survived.

  2. Goodness – it does work so well for both equinox(es) – both equality-days-nights “caught high in the maw”. The imagery is terrible (in the terrifying sense) – and because here in New Zealand we have neither toad nor snake (only lizards and frogs) both carry an even greater sense of fear and horror. “Blaming the sky” coupled with the de-birthing toad, is such an image-evocative phrase – the sky is wild, and angry, and unpredictable, and irresponsible. I love this poem.

    • Thank you, Bruce. I’m glad you think it works for both times too. Your lizards and frogs seem so less threatening, don’t they? And I really like your take on the sky….just what I was aiming for. I know St. Patrick is reported to have chased the snakes out of Ireland, but now I’m wondering who chased all the snakes out of New Zealand….

  3. This is a great poem with many wonderful images. But I cannot stop but thinking that you must have known a great deal of snakes in your life to be able to write such a poem. Thank you Cynthia 🙂

    • Snakes just don’t seem lovable to most of us. But the snakes we have here in New England are smaller and not mortally poisonous like the rattlesnakes, boas, and copperheads seen in other parts of the Americas. What I don’t like is that they startle you: suddenly, the grass moves and you are taken aback. I was taught that they fear us more than we fear them, so they don’t upset me, as they seem to upset, especially, a lot of women. (Eve in the Garden of Eden?) Anyway, I don’t particularly like them 🙂

  4. If snakes could just learn to be vegetarians, we wouldn’t have these dreadful scenes. Now, I’m not talking vegan necessarily–just white bread, Plain Jane vegetarian.

    Incidentally, the equinoxes here are hard to predict, as the sun moves according to its own secret flight plan. Very confusion for the toads. Also, there are no snakes. I guess they need a more accountable sun for that.

    Still, I’d encourage anyone living in snake infested places (Australia for example) to tempt snakes with bits of zucchini to see if you can’t get them to develop a taste for the stuff.

    So effective was your poem that I had to think outside the box in order to come to the aid of that poor toad.

    • What a good idea, Prospero! There’s such a surfeit of zucchini around here just now….People grow it—they call it summer squash locally— because it’s easy to grow but it is nearly tasteless so they they don’t care much for eating it. They give it to me. I make zucchini bread, and various kinds of veggie casseroles with it, having learned how to excite it, from an old Italian lady who was an excellent cook.

      Now, I will begin to proselytize your wonderful idea, and get them to feed it to snakes. From what I know about meat eaters, though, it may be a lost cause.

      How can I believe you don’t have predictable equinoxes in Bermuda…that’s got to be hard on the toads.

      • “that’s got to be hard on the toads.” And on sequin-caped (and capped) magicians too.

        Where has the sun gone to today, Ariel?

        Behind a cloud, my master.

        I thought it was equinox confusion.

        No. Just a cloud.

        But what I’d like to know is how do you excite a zucchini (other than resorting to having it view licentious squash videos–winter and summer–on the internet)?

        • Zucchini has no eyes, so the videos will not work. As with most modest, introverted beings, its personality can only emerge when in sympathetic company, as for example, with onion and tomato, and any number of fresh herbs from tarragon to rosemary. Then it consents to be sliced and combined in layers in a buttered baking dish, as the camaraderie grows, and a sprinkling of good cheese from the hand-grater snows on them all. There is the heat of the oven, and the tasting, after which the party is declared a success. “We must do this again, soon,” they all declare, as the word “squash’ evaporates, giving way to the transcendental word “yum.mmm…”

  5. I love this poem! – The rhythm, the story, the images……… I came to see the seasons like an infinity symbol with the solstices [solsticii?] of summer and winter placed at the end curves and the equinoxes crossing in the middle – just each heading off in different directions. I used to find myself often in Europe around Easter time and it was always a time of wonder to me as I observed and pondered on these things 🙂 I am going to have to get me a copy of your book just as soon as the coffers are full enough!!

    • What a good symbol to think about…infinity….it’s perfect! I’m happy that you like the poem, Pauline. I was wondering if it would pass muster around here as a fall equinox, considering that it was written in spring. But I guess it does….nature’s creatures and their doings have a certain universality, and mother nature certainly is not sentimental after all! Thank you so much for your comment.

  6. I love this poem, Cynthia!! It gripped me as I read and re-read, the choice of words, the narrative and then….to find out it was a real experience you had. I found myself thinking what a great poem to offer to high school students who imagine poetry to be dull, flowery and unintelligible. Now I am going to listen to you read it….joy!

    • You are so right, Julie. Now that you’ve brought to mind those “good old days” of dealing with the young and restless in a public school classroom, I’m enjoying a reverie of what it was like and what kind of poetry—if any— could appeal to them. For one thing, they really did enjoy play with language, rhyme, humor, and conundrums. They would love a snake trying to swallow a toad. Some of them might even see deeper into it, but on their own, not from an analysis forced by authority, or what was a “proper” interpretation. Anyway, this one was fun to write, though the event that occasioned it was pretty hair raising at first. Poems are everywhere, I guess, when we chance to see them, even in the most mundane and natural of circumstances. Much love. 😀

  7. Marvelous imagery. Simply marvelous.

    I imagined myself that toad, waking to a new day only to become the snake’s breakfast! I cried to the heavens. The unjust heavens only to realize I was croaking into the belly of my captor.

    And oh so relieved to learn that you came to my rescue with a stick! Misshapen and a bit elongated, but frighted out of my wits! Thank you for this lovely, vicarious adventure.

  8. This is very sinister. Poor toad wakes up and there’s this snake in it’s new skin practicing looking mean (mean as a snake??) because that’s what it does. I liked the rhythm of the whole thing, too, moving forward to the awful event. And the toad’s eyebrows…

    • Well, a toad with snowy eyebrows and a snake practicing looking mean is really meant to cartoon-ize this little story slightly, and dilute some of the “sinister.” When it was actually happening, I was shocked by it, and yet fascinated at the same time….like watching a terrible accident, only this wasn’t an accident, but an occurrence in the natural order of things. Glad you like the rhythm; terza rima is good for moving a story along and objectifying it a bit.

  9. As I was reading, the question was poised on my lips…well…fingers…”Is this based on an actual witnessed event?” and there you went and answered it unasked. How clever of you.
    Thank you for your equinox offering. What a lovely idea and I feel quite attuned to you Northerners now. 🙂

    • I had a premonition you would be poised to ask that question MoSY, and that’s exactly why I provided the answer. I hope you are looking forward to spring and summer in the antipodes, even as we move into our seasons of bright falling leaves and sub-zero temperatures. Thanks, as always, for stopping by! 🙂

  10. The first stanza lulled me into complacency with the charming images of snowy eyebrows and pop-eyed toads and a warm green witch only to scare the bejesus out of me with the violent 3rd last stanza and the poor moaning toad! Good lord. What a scene. I have never thought of the change of seasons – the equinoxes – in such a way. I can’t wait to see what you do with the harvest moon we’re going to have on Sunday and the lunar eclipse. Will you see it in Maine?

    • Yes, we’ll get a very good view of it….they’re calling it the super-blood-moon, and it’s all supposed to happen starting around 8pm tomorrow evening. I’m really not much of an astronomer, and am actually puzzled at how often my poems deal with moon-stars-sky, but they do….because of ancestors? because of weather? because the heavens symbolize things all we earthlings can muse about and share? There’s more to it, I guess, than is dreamt of, in our philosophies…..maybe I should be getting ready with some magical rites, but so far I think I probably won’t be inspired to write a poem about it.

  11. The cycle of life; the natural order of things; as above so below; yin and yang; etc. etc.
    So many layers, so much depth – as you say above Cynthia, there are poems all around us. However, there are very few people with the artistry and skill to bring them alive for other people to read (and/or listen to) and enjoy them at the level/depth they choose. You do this so well Cynthia – and this is another beaut! Thoroughly enjoying it here and in your book – so spoilt! Thank you! 🙂

    • The yin-yang concept yields great richness to thinking about life and the world…but I know you and I are on the same page about that, since I find it so often in your own poetry. This toad and snake incident wanted to be a poem because it was right there, in a real situation, and not just an abstraction. And when that happens, as I have heard you say before, it’s a question of “through”, and not “from” our own little poison pens! 🙂 Thank you, Rob.

  12. Once again you have captured this amazing picture and added your magic, Cynthia.
    The feeling of the toad being caught, writhing, ‘ birth in reverse, blaming the sky’ is so apt! 🙂

      • Not exactly, but my uncle filmed snakes love making which went on for ages. He even had time to go and get the movie camera from the farm house and return with plenty of time to spare! I’ve only observed snakes swallowing on film, I’m a bit scared of them. As a child I had a snake rise up and hiss, but I stood frozen and it eventually went down it’s hole.

        • That’s funny, about your uncle. I can almost picture it. I’m not horribly scared of them, but I certainly don’t like them….for no reason in particular, I guess. If you had a snake hiss at you, you must have some “interesting ” ones in Tasmania. It’s the poisonous ones we have to worry about. I’m glad yours eventually went down its hole. As they say, most wild animals are more afraid of us than we need be of them!

  13. The language of this poem is mesmerising from the beginning through to the climax and on to the dilemma of the unresolved ending. I was very glad to see in the comments that you had intervened, but you were so right to end the poem where you did. This one is a winner, a pleasure for the ear and the intellect, and a great observation of nature.

    • Some occurrences, especially in nature, strike me as poems in and of themselves, and they’re the ones best explored in language that has some sort of consistent form, I think So I was given the snake, the toad, the situation and the feeling of the terza rima narrative, which all seemed to fall in line together….an example of how writing sometimes seems to work itself out, and oneself seems, in retrospect, to have been merely an instrument. Thanks a bunch, Hilary. I hope you enjoyed your sojourn here in the US and found yet an abundance of tomatoes on the return to your lovely UK garden!

  14. Such an interesting poem, Cynthia, and full of allusions to the equinox.
    (I’m getting behind with my blog reading and likely to remain so throughout October I’m afraid: we have a daughter staying with us from New Zealand for five weeks, with three small children and her husband for part of the time.)

    • I chuckled, imagining your fullness of houseguests, John. I’m sure it will be active and interesting, though certainly not conducive to much blogging, especially with three little kiwis to keep you hopping. (Blogging’s mainly for us old farts who need to “get a life” anyway, as the kids say.)
      Thanks so much for stopping by to comment; you’re still my best re-reader. Have fun!

    • Hi Cindy! Well at least the gull swallowed it. This toad wouldn’t go down without a huge struggle and it was just awful to see….Eeeeks, indeed! I imagine you’re still enjoying Yellowstone and taking gorgeous photos to delight us. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  15. You held me transfixed with this one, Cynthia. A gruesome offering, to be sure. Yet, even at its cruellest, isn’t there always something wonderful in the workings of innocent Nature? Hummm…doubt the sentimental snake or moaning toad would agree!

    Fond regards,


  16. Oh dear, what a meal, and what a story Cynthia! 😯 Well, I’ve certainly never seen anything like that in real life, only on wildlife programmes. The only snakes we have are little light green grass snakes, and I’ve not even seen one of those either – I think they hide well in long grass the same green as they are! 😀 So what happened to the snake in the end, did it die too through lack of swallowing?!

    • Actually, both the snake and the toad survived. I picked up a twig and tapped the snake with it. It quickly released the toad—which was now a long, thin, misshapen thing—the snake slithered away, the toad slowly regained its legs and hopped away in the undergrowth. Mother Nature is a hard task mistress!

      • My goodness, you saved the toad!!! 😀 We all have to eat to stay alive in this world – even the toad! Kind of ugly when you get to see it in that way. We humans have a very neat way of dressing up our eating compared to a snake. That was not Mr Snakes lucky day! 😉

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