On the Death of a Small Green Frog

A baby frog it was, I think, its eyes cartoonlike, too big for the rest of him, gawked upward just before my front bumper passed overhead. Looking back in my rearview mirror, I saw a green form stretching up, form I could not name, flamelike elasticity, from one splayfoot stuck to the asphalt. Thoughts rush faster than any syntax at moments when something binds you to that other creature: Hoping that he died swiftly, so that the sprong and leap were reflexive, merely, like those Sunday morning spectacles of childhood when the hen would rush about headless, blood gushing from the aorta; or hoping that the car behind me might hit it squarely ending its agony ­ or that, if undead still, “shock” might have deadened its pain, by whatever chemical effect, whatever anaesthesia, by grace of nature. 

Yes, for the same foolish impulse for which my ex-mistress used to reproach me, I turned and went back, looking amidst the morning traffic for a small green body, hoping to find one still, unmoving. No luck. I circled back, late for morning class, Introduction to Fiction. I thought of Kinnell’s poems of bear and porcupine, of Stafford’s “Traveling Through the Dark,” of Gerald Stern’s poem of weeping for a dead opossum. I thought of St. Francis and of Kazantzakis. 

In buddhism, there is a belief in the equality of all creatures. No hierarchy, such as an evolutionary ladder, or the earlier Christian Renaissance model A.O. Lovejoy describes, the Great Chain of Being. In some sense, mankind is deemed “higher,” but not in value of sentience ­ only in the sense that as human beings, we are privileged to choose. For example, to opt for enlightenment, or to fritter away our time. And still the record is mixed: some buddhists insist that it is unwise for a monk, say, to have pets. Other buddhists record miraculous events in which, apparently, a goose or some other creature is able to actually take refuge in dharma. But in any case, buddhism also asserts that it is the  intentionality that determines whether any act (including the taking of a life) is sinful, and not the act in isolation from its seeds. 

Cold comfort. Say a prayer for that small green life, and for us all, and remember the child, big-eyed, starry-eyed in wonder and in delight, watching some Nature series on television, in which some gawking amphibious creature whose feet are disproportionately huge runs along the surface of water. My anonymous friend was meant to be, perhaps, a fish’s meal. Not, surely, a machine-ravaged victim of the quick and easy category we call “road kill.” 

Copyright © 2003 Jim McCurry