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Poem-a-Day

The Frog

THE FROG

Of all possible hours, Biology fell
just before lunch. The formaldehyde smell
hung on our hands in a cloud roughly
the size and shape of winter mittens
as we stood in line in the cafeteria,
waiting to receive whatever meal
the school district had determined
should be served us. I had no appetite,
even before a kid whose face and name
I can’t conjure made a joke involving
the interchangeability in taste and texture
of frog legs and chicken wings.
Above us, in that lab on the third floor
with its Formica tables and Bunsen burners
and graduated cylinders and chipped vials,
our frogs lay splayed with their thighs open
in a way we knew even then to be lewd,
their delicate hands and feet pinned,
their entrails spilled in the mess we’d made
trying to match the moist sacs
with the color-coded organs in the book.
But their white throats were uncut,
and their exquisite faces, fashioned
over millennia, were composed and solemn,
their square chins like the chin of an old man
who, one day, for no apparent reason,
shaves the beard he has worn for years
and frightens his grandson. It was not the frog
that made me put the first forkful of food down,
but the smell of the formaldehyde on my hand,
and the knowledge, just dawning, that
it takes something horrible to preserve us.
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