An Apology to the Toad in the Ruffed Grouse Pen
When I turn over the plastic boulder we find a mouse nest
and a toad half-buried in the gravel
and my coworker stops raking
and we both wonder out loud how the toad got in here because it’s so round
and too big to squeeze through the chicken wire or gaps in the door
and my coworker tells me how relieved she is we saw the toad
and how she once hurt one at another job, accidentally,
and in this line of work you hurt animals sometimes
and it’s funny because you’re also supposed to be taking care of animals
and I pick up the toad
and carry it in my dust-stained palms
and I think how merciful I am
and I feel something wet
and when I look down the toad’s belly has split open
and my fingers must have kept the skin stitched together
and I would have thought the insides would be red and not creamy white
and it must have been the rake
and how it must have looked like a rusty blade to this small creature
and my coworker hurt a thing, again, accidentally,
and she doesn’t know
and I know
and this body growing cold feels like it’s gaining weight
and I wonder if the mass of guilt weighs more than fake stones
and the fibers it plunges into finger pads
and I decide to carry this body
and I lay the toad in the oak saplings, think of all the pretty words
but can only say, “Sorry.”
Self-Care for the Piteous Vermin
First: Submerge yourself in boiling water. Swell the pores and gape your odious humors. Recline and watch the ring of your own pond scum grow a geology on the bath tub.
Second: Check the horoscope, how Scorpio chases the hunter from the sky. Invest in the soft rattle of cobwebs.
Third: Don’t tell yourself no. Pick up the dead bird.
Fourth: Consider a cleanse to restart you system. Eat the fat, the fermented, the cream cropped. Refill your blood with toxins and rinse your kidneys in salt.
Fifth: Wash your skin with your claws. Hook the boil, hive, pimple, and all your troublesome lodestones with your dusty nail bed. Pull out the itch and let it bleed—scab chitin. Molt an exoskeleton. Strike your legs together and trill.
Ashely Adams is a queer, swamp-adjacent writer whose work has appeared in Paper Darts, Fourth River, Permafrost, Apex Magazine, and other places. She is the nonfiction editor of the literary journal Lammergeier.
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