“Mail-Order Tadpoles” by Lisa Hickey

Lisa Hickey

MAIL ORDER TADPOLES

1.) Arrival

The postman hands me the brown corrugated envelope
one sleety day in March. Inside, a zip-lock bag
containing eggs the size of a pinhead, jelled together.
My daughters gingerly hold the bag up to the light.
Like a nineteenth century lumberjack
who just received his bride,
we are eager to see how ours will blossom.

2.) Birth

Saucer, water, three drops of synthetic vitamins.
All that is needed for floating dots to sprout tails,
bulge eyes. Within weeks, bodies widen,
tiny prehistoric limbs turn to hoppable legs.
Skin mottles and leatherizes, mouths as wide
as my eyelid appear. We move small, breathing frogs
to a rock-filled plastic box. A small indent
of water pretends to be a pond. The frogs
take separate corners, glare at each other.

3.) Food

Rushing from work, late
to pick up my daughters. Again.
Delayed getting a gallon of milk
and a bag of crickets.
Crickets are sold by the dozen,
in thin plastic bags, knotted on top.
The bag jumps and shimmers
in the passenger seat of my car.

4.) Worry

A cricket has escaped
and sings haikus in my china cabinet.
He comes out to stare at me sometimes,
hears me breathing, turns still as granite.
My daughter runs by and I yell,
“Don’t step on the cricket!”
Some days the frogs go hungry.
I can’t seem to maintain
the balance of the ecosystem.

5.) I am God today

My littlest mortal tries not to jostle the plastic box.
We walk the path in the woods
to the pond’s edge. She sets the box down.
The frogs and crickets jump out with the zeal
of a born-again anything.
My daughters stare as the frogs
dart and glide through sepia pond water,
swim their freedom with tiny synchronized breast strokes.
The crickets hop towards the shadows
of the twilighted grass.
A duck ripples away.
A sparrow opens his wings to fly,
then settles into a branch above us.
We watch the frogs and crickets disappear,
until I am sure I could no longer save them if I tried.

from Rattle #28, Winter 2008