Avatar Review
Issue 13

Poetry: Nicolette Bethel

Fear of Frogs: Eyes

If a frog pee in your eye, you go blind  —Bahamian belief

In the rain we heard them first, creaking and croaking
in places we’d never see, sending messages,
sharing gossip, telling each other
about the people below them, how tall
we were, and how high our eye-level,
whether we wore glasses, how many
blind men they’d make for the season.
Then they started to get confident
and show themselves, sending out
the big ones first: huge froads the size
of my fist, sucker-stuck above windows or folded
in corners, high above eye-height, and still,
except for their eyes. Sentinels, scrunched
over doorways, hunched above windows,
clumped in a corner to watch the humans go by.

One night, one cousin grew brave, and cruel.
There was a stick. There was a poke. The frog
crawled a little. Yet another poke. Then out came the pee!
A slender geyser, a watery arc. We screamed,
and all covered our eyes.

Fear of Frogs: Throats

There’s this sound they make. The word
that’s used is croaking. And in good Anglo-Saxon
word-hoard way it says it all: the word croak
like croaking. Like a creak done
in a froggy baritone. Like a squawk, well-oiled.
Like a retch. Like a bass’s broken scream.

I heard once that for torture, the tyrants
of the world made their enemies
swallow live frogs. These frogs had twine
tied to their legs. They went down croaking
so the squawks you heard were the men’s
and the frogs. When the torturer twitched
the twine, the men would retch, throw up
whole frogs, saliva-slimy, acid-burned, alive,
throats beating like hearts, gasping
good air till the ordeal started again.

They’re loud tonight. They croak, they croak.
craw-crik, craw-crik, like mouths squealed open,
mouths sealed shut, the sound of throats
behind those mouths, and no necks in between.
Craw-crik. Craw-crik, in desperate conversation:
quick, quick. Kawk, cork. Quee-quaw, quee-quaw,
a dozen throats sucked back and forth,
two dozen eyes half-closed in gullet ecstasy,
unlacing the night with their crawqueequick song.

Fear of Frogs: Underbellies

the frogs you know are terrycloth green with piggyloves and microphones
the frogs you know dream on lily pads and crouch in grass and sit on stones
the frogs you know go swimming swimming all the time
        eyes rippling water green as slime

but those are not our frogs

not the turncoat poisonskin peefrogs
        the 30-yard-leap shuttersheltering treefrogs
not the scare-me-swiftly jump-on-shin frogs
        crawl-with-purpose-up-wet-pane rainfrogs
not the doorjamb-shelter windowcrook squishfrogs
not the swim-through-muck-to-toiletseat lurkfrogs

whose underbellies are pale as fishbellies
        as lard

Fear of Frogs: Glass

Visit the exhibition. Face the fear.
All about frogs. Frogs from everywhere.
Frogs in green water, hunkered like moss
on rocks, lurking under logs, under leaves,
and all behind glass. A fat puffy ball, afloat
in a pool. A slow bronze toad that screamed
and bit if you came near. A horny toad.

See the beautiful aquamarine ones, skins like ceramic,
and eyes that are more than alive. Count the webfoot
frogs and sticky-toed frogs, and a toad or two
for luck. And the loveliest of all: tiny multi-coloured frogs
like toys, but poison, like witch-treated candy
hopping round behind glass.

But none was the grey-green West Indian frog,
or the mottled Cuban tree frog, with long strong
legs for leaping, splayed toes for sticking,
swivel-eyes for watching, for plotting;
with no voice-box for singing, just a throat
burped wide for croaking;
just curiosities under glass.