I was so startled, summers afterward,
to still carry vividly in memory
that scalding afternoon when, impatient
to finish, I wheeled the push-mower
over a parcel of warted flesh, flung back
under the clattering, grass-flecked blades.
To this day I hold the pity of its bleeding,
its helplessness before my juggernaut,
my helplessness before its suffering.
I have often pitied, frequently
saved, the small, and then stopped short,
not turned to face a greater suffering.
What impractical compassion poetry
demands for the vulnerable and ravaged
of our world. Yet how would it be worthy
of a lifetime’s effort if it didn’t
make us more attentive and less cruel? The rest,
distraction from the blade whirling at our neck...
Thomas R. Smith is a poet, essayist, editor, and teacher whose work appears in numerous anthologies. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including most recently The Foot of the Rainbow, from Red Dragonfly Press. He has edited several books, including the forthcoming Airmail: The Letters of Robert Bly and Tomas Tranströmer, from Graywolf Press. He is active in peace and environmental issues and teaches poetry at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. He regularly posts poems and essays on his website: thomasrsmithpoet.com. “The Toad” is from his collection Waking Before Dawn, published by Red Dragonfly Press, and is reprinted by permission.