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Eating a Toad
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Published: Tue Apr 15 2003
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Eating a Toad

Each morning when we wake, said Emile Zola,
          We must eat our daily toad. We have to face being
                            Merely ourselves again, not less revolting
Dream selves. But consider those toads who have gone
          Far, far out of their ways to be disgusting,
                            To warn all predators they’re not simply
Inedible, but can make a poisonous mouthful,
          Which as a first line of defense is as good as most
                            Last lines. Almost nothing on earth
Will willingly and knowingly eat a toad
          Except a hedgehog, a creature
                            Of modest habits and even more
Modest intentions. It moves slowly
          In a semi-private world it must surely wish
                            Were even more private. Because it can outrun
So few others among the living, it settles
          For legless or torpid insects, dozing snakes,
                            Or birds’ eggs it can always depend on
To hold still. It can’t see far enough
          Ahead or behind to avoid the foxes and badgers
                            And dogs that would eat it in spite
Of its rough spines and its inconvenient tactic
          Of curling its body into a tight
                            Unmanageable ball
And playing dead, and so, long before now,
          It would have been more scarce than the likes
                            (And the admirably articulated dislikes)
Of Emile Zola if it hadn’t had the foresight
          To overtake occasionally a complacent
                            Toad, chew down that nearly lethal morsel,
And be heartily sick of it, foam at the mouth,
          Then carefully lick itself all over
                            With the results: the awful armor of Toadhood.

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