I attended a poetry workshop on Saturday, and my favorite poem of the day was by Terry Lucas, the new Marin County poet laureate. I said in the workshop that I had recently read that by writing about a bad experience one was able to shift one’s relationship to it to that of witness. I think this poem does that perfectly.
Dear Frogs of Pinckneyville, Illinois
Forgive me for all the times I forced you
into Welch’s Grape Jelly jars filled with cotton balls
soaked with ether from my father’s starter fluid can
he sprayed into dead diesel engines
on frozen December mornings. I am truly sorry
for not throwing you higher. Please know that I wanted to
put you into orbit like Belka and Strelka, the first
warm-blooded animals to trick gravity and return
alive, but my nine-year old arm wasn’t strong enough
to launch you over the peak of the barn’s roof
crumbling into itself in the vacant lot next door.
I tried again and again as you tumbled behind glass
like green-clad daredevils in clothes dryers.
Naturally, I performed post-mortems, the point
of my mother’s sewing scissors fitting perfectly
into openings seemingly created for entry. I squeezed
your rough sides to lift your white bellies, avoiding injury
to organs when I opened you up. You voiced no objections
when I showed the neighbor kids your digestive systems,
the contents of your stomachs, your kinked intestines—
totally in the interest of science. Like the other animals
slain so humans could travel safely to the moon.
I am sorry for them too. But not as much
as treating you as if you were created for us
to experiment on in order to protect those mothers’ babies
who grew up to be astronauts. As if the empty womb
of space weren’t holy. As if you were not.