Death of a Frog; You, Without Shoes

Zilka Joseph

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Death of a Frog

—Philautus Maia, first and only specimen ever to be found, circa 1860, in Sri Lanka

I. Maya: Illusion

And who were your ancestors,
your glossy little children, lone
ghost of the emerald

swamp? Was your landscape
just a projection of some heat-oppressed
brain
? Dead, you tell us

you existed. A museum’s
your mausoleum now. It seems
Maia slept as you were taken,

and the furrow in the field
did not swallow you like it did Sita. But
here you are—a brown bauble

captive under glass. Habeas
Corpus. Plucked from
a rain-heavy lotus leaf

(or was it from an algae-slathered
river?) by the hands
of your discoverer. Left your webbed

footprint in the mud we claim
as ours. And, making up
stories as we go, we gather

our basketfuls of Adams and Eves, fallen
Lucifers, snakes and whales; but you
fell somewhere by the side

of that old road. The sun touched you
once in that forest. You glowed,
then you were gone.

II. Maya: Compassion

Hard to tell what color your eyes
were. Your skin tone under the true sun?
Shriveled water-loving-

land-living-issue of mudskippers,
carcass of lost knowledge, O maya!
This ache—is it just illusion?

Weep for the passing of birds
and beasts! Even St. Francis
intervened for you. See, he wipes

his eyes with his sleeve. And after,
did St. Peter welcome you? Or like
our colonist fathers measured,

filed you away? You were the last
of your line. Rest now. My fingers
anoint you with moisture. My prayers

ravel around you in ether. Not yet
ashes, not yet dust,
we preserve you. In this life,

we resurrect you. Through
your descendants still unborn,
still unrisen from the wet lands.

Holy amphibian,
child of earth and water,
when will you come again?

You, Without Shoes

we imagine you with a pen between your teeth
in an electric city

how you escaped the mud
its fierce love of flesh and bone

child, barefoot in the mud you walked
savored the squelching
deep now

the suck of soil around your ankles
your feet have sunk

how do you know

how to lift up
escape the pull of it

our child
gone away

you once were lustrous with rain
your feet like petals

trail of paisley print behind you
we grasped it in our hands
we could not let go

each foot searches
like a prayer before

it takes your weight

shoeless you played
how could we imagine you

all grown up
you, a woman with dreams held like a rose in her teeth

who never let the heels of our history
wear her down

we are old, we have not moved, we stay the same
we cannot understand
distance

we, the ones left behind
who fall

earth calls us daily

but you
you just shake us from your hair

shake the water from your feet
mud invisible

lift off
never look back

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