The Poetry of
Jack Scott

Godfather Frog

The Lake of the Lost Fisherman
lies in a long, long valley,
not unlike a nine-pin alley
beneath round, scudding clouds
like Rip van Winkle’s bowling balls.

In this farthest north of frigid Maine
I camped in August frost by night
beside a chilly lake the color of the sky,
writing at, by day, a book-to-be:
The Moth That Made it to the Moon.

There was no refuge from the chill
of each cloud’s shadow,
no insulation in this clear, thin air,
except coats and sweaters
and constant campfire tending.
No protection from capricious gusts
which scattered all my pages
and sent me scrambling after them,
except paternal vigilance
and rocks and forks and spoons
pinning paper moth wings
to my picnic table,
crude lepidoptery.

The passing of each cloud passage
unveiled the sun
and let its heat stream through,
drenching me in sweat.
Overdressed or underdressed,
it was hard to get it right,
the thermostat was crazy,
and so perhaps was I,
stranded by affliction
a thousand miles from home.
Weighing misery against disaster,
I thought it best to stick it out
there with one working eye
until I felt safe enough
to drive that far with two.
So I sat in my confinement
waiting for parole,
and wrote in two dimensions of a mental multitude.
No-brainer self-denial:
I could not afford motels and gas,

Going to the nearest town
for food and fuel
and, of course, more beer,
I found a doctor
who put at least my mind at ease.
Conjunctivitis . . . how did I get it?
So many possibilities:
of them: mushroom poisoning
while plundering maniacally.
He gave me salve and eye drops,
and gauze to darken it.
He said self-healing- probably-
given time and self-control,
if I kept from rubbing it
and, of course, the other.
Two pink eyes!
A thought I didn’t want to think.

I had two neighbors out of sight,
camping up the beach
around the bend.
ex-smokers to be,
they had planned this trip
to kick their demon, Nicotine.
Former lovers at the moment forgoing social graces,
in their smoke deprived
and shrinking minds,
retiring from the human race
on this severe vacation,
shunning one another
and the lake’s community :
Perfect neighbors for a writer.

They took long healthy hikes
in different directions,
each avoiding all the things
that might ignite
short fuses of their tempers
to explode withdrawal‘s dynamite.
Him, I never saw;
her path included me
strolling daily past
in her silent, absent way
up and down the beach,
her private treadmill.
Passing close enough to touch,
tormented, it seemed to me,
brushing past my elbow
without acknowledgement.

On the third day
she somnambulated by as usual
without “Good morning” or a glance
fading down the beach
into out of sight.
Then she broke the fourth wall
of our private little play
and ran back straight to me.
“Come see! You have to see.
A monster spotted dark and green.
Bigger than I’ve ever seen.”
Her description didn’t match
a grazing moose or thirsty bear,
but might populate Loch Ness
in imagination.
In her excitement,
she was jumping up and down,
while reaching for a cigarette
she didn’t have.
Breathlessly, en route she told me
of their masochistic mission,
swearing she would die or kill
for just one puff.
“Who would you kill?” I asked.
“Someone who would rather die.”
The curious cyclops
and the resurrected girl
stalked swiftly side by side-
some years apart-
on the trail of mystery.
Nearing target’s habitat
she grabbed my arm and pointed.
” There! I told you. See!”

I saw: Godfather frog
at rest in lotus garden pebble nest
just within green-magic lake
presiding over furniture
he might arrange, but cannot make.
So perfect and so emperor
he might be served by fairy staff
his choice of crayfish, salmon, trout
if he had hunger
when homecoming elves and trolls
present him with their catch,
bounty of the spellbound lake.

He was, as she said, enormous,
more than large enough
to swell and burst belief.
Sovereignly safe, his attitude,
monarch of his history and survival,
imperially ballasted on his throne
of rock and stone and gravel,
recklessly ensconced
two inches from the top-
foolishly vulnerable.

Here was my great divide,
the fulcrum of my human scale,
the reckoning of my tug of war
between impulse and wisdom.
I’d collected mushrooms obsessively
in blind compulsion,
pillaged living things I didn’t need
for any purpose
but to try to own them,
plucked beauty from its pristine setting,
powerless to simply feast my eyes
and enjoy enjoyment
instead of orgiastic plundering.
Killing is the terminal disease
of the ultimate collector.

Addiction’s child was silent
as she followed me back home.

From my tent I got my trident,
long wrapped instrument of intended death,
its points impaled in corks and clad in foil;
around it twined its nylon coil.
Once shiny, new, and deadly,
now well into the age of rust
it was thinner now,
but on this expedition
still thick enough to kill.
I felt awe and power,
a bloodlust much like greed.
My walking stick- a mountain pick-
became a double agent:
when I fit the lethal tool upon this tip
it was harpoon.

Returning to the scene
of the crime-to-be
we sucked in air
and held two breaths.
He saw us coming,
he saw us there,
godfather frog saw me.

Having much experience
with targets that I’ve missed
I hoped he’d move, escape,
while he had his chance.
He saw me move.
He did not move

I struck the king’s own fool,
the stubborn lord within his pool
and so became his victim.
He was passive
as all points went in and through,
the spear in to its hilt,
he was that thick.
Needlessly, I pinned him down;
he did not move a bit.
I held him there a long and silent time.
He sat right there and took it,
stared up at me,
but still he did not move.
Cold blooded, intending hibernation,
but overcome by torpor
of too-sudden winter’s breath
could explain his sluggishness.

I raised the monarch up
impaled upon my fork.
The girl said, “My god, he’s big”,
and old, I thought, and old.
Out of water,
weighty as a melon
and about that size.
I feared my spear would break,
but we were bound together.

She ran to tell her husband,
through the suns and shadows,
became smaller, became gone.
I was left alone with what I’d done
and what I’d yet to do.
I’ve heard frogs sing,
so they must cry,
but he wouldn’t make a sound,
and did not move.
He only looked at me,
and blinked,
the only sign he was alive.

Since he resisted death thus far,
the worst of it,
the killing yet remains.
Revelation in an instant,
karma in a flash
dark epiphany.
I did not need you
and you did not need me.

I took my trophy home,
my albatross,
and, moving paperwork aside,
set him on my table.
The barbs were cruel,
they would be crueler
coming out than going in.
I had no tool to cut them off.

My sharpest knife I sharpened sharper.
Should I kill him outright?
That would be kinder
if I deserved to use that word.
How would I do it?
What was his anatomy?
Where was his heart?
I plunged my knife
into where, on him,
my own would be.
I did it quick.

His blood was flowing freely now.
His pain was moving him
to try -in vain- at last
to escape the pain and me,
a struggle which I won
because I had to.

I couldn’t find or pierce his heart-
or he could live without it.
Mercy wasn’t possible;
to end his pain
I must intensify it.
I had no choice,
but to do it quick
and get it over.

I tried to cut his head off,
but there was no neck he had no neck
and cut was but a verb,
I sawed and hacked at him,
I mutilated more.
I hope for John the Baptist’s sake
that he was not as tough
or they had better steel.

I’m sorry, does not do the job,
I’ll go away will not undo it.
I wasn’t simply taking life
but ruining it by degrees.

I persevered, and so did he.
He tried to breathe-
great gulps-
through his gaping mouth.
His eyes rolled round and round
like something going down a drain.
He was madness in wild motion.
His stubborn head stayed on
because I couldn’t get it off.
I could have used the hatchet
if it had occurred to me.

One hand pressed hard up on him,
the trident in my other hand
I wrenched at it with all my strength
and empathy,
but could not pull it free .
It tore him horribly.
He lurched,
the king,
the monster tried to leap
and screamed as loud as I.
I threw the goddamned nightmare-
fused frog and spear-
as far as I could hurl it.
Blood spattered everywhere.
He screamed and writhed his agony.
I turned, but couldn’t walk away
I couldn’t leave him as he was
in slow excruciation.
I had to get the spear out.

I held him down again
and plunged the knife into him
back and forth and up and down
stabbing, slicing round the tines,
a massacre in miniature,
butchery without yet slaughter.
I cut and cut and cut.
The monarch bled more freely,
but no longer flailed about,
was still for now,
all but his eyes which followed me
like magic pictures on a wall.
His pulse beat on beneath my hand.

I have tried to kill before
but never got the knack.
Relieving them from misery
just seemed to make it worse:
they have always died
of more pain than they could stand .
I smoked half a pack of cigarettes,
started drinking beer,
gathered up my bloodied pages
in whatever order.
His eyes were still wide open,
still intent on me;
they blinked
when they decided to.
His inner light seemed dimmer now,
beclouded and more alien
as if fueled by stubbornness,
but his eyes
were no less determined.

The sun and clouds had worn me down,
the mushrooms and the wet and chill,
the oscillating sweating heats,
a dim and angry sick right eye,
and fears, more than a few,
but most of all
my crime was wearing me.
In fairness and comparison
my whining had no merit.

He would be my supper
to palliate my act;
the royal line must not die out.
I would honor him
by inviting him to dinner,
following dismemberment.
I skinned the legs,
amputated at the hips
then divided at the knees.
I did the same to forearms;
large enough to eat.

I opened him,
a thrumming factory.
The heart beat on,
the stomach pulsed, a pantry.
I took three large stones from it,
small stones, I took four,
minnows and five crayfish
fresh enough to fish with,
a feathered bird, a mouse,
two smaller frogs . . .
The monarch was a glutton,
he’d eaten half the sea.

With some of this as bait
I’d eat the fish they caught,
a pale attempt at penitence
to Nature and to him:
now half a leather melon
left over from the leather rest of him.

Despite this gory surgery
he still refused his death.
Each time I touched the table
his eyes would blink and nearly pop
as if exposing me
to some arcane photography;
he sensed my feet upon the ground.

I would have called upon my neighbors
to help me find my sanity
but they would think me crazy.
I couldn’t fish,
or even think of it;
the water frightened me.
Nor animate my moth-
such arrogance to try
to resurrect a creature
whose life I’d hoped
would spring from me,
who now had stolen future
from the real thing:
a creature with a living past.
I’d sacrificed a legend
to mediocrity.

My neighbor came to call on me
at leading edge of fearful night.
She came smiling, smoking
in good natured curiosity.
Shame on you I thought
but didn’t voice hypocrisy.
All things told, it’s shame on me.
“Are you really going to eat it?”
She saw my preparation
soaking in a pan.
“I hear the French eat them,” she said.
“My husband didn’t really want to see.”
Then she found the head
just as the head found her.
She screamed
and ran smoking up the beach.

I fed my fire-
a beacon and an amulet-
to shield me
from the coming darkness
and its dreaded population.
When I got it roaring
I impaled the legs to broil
upon some upright sticks.
I boiled carrots and potatoes,
fried up all my bacon
as the dusk grew thicker.
I ate potatoes first-
the salt was on frog’s table.
I counted it as his.
I ate the veggies and the bacon
and drank a lot of beer.
When my entre was golden brown,
that of it that wasn’t black,
I bit into it and chewed
and chewed,
then tried to swallow.
It tasted like the worst of fish
that ever swam
or creature ever crawled
from septic tank of demon fiends.

The result was Pavlovian,
negatively speaking.
I ran retching down the beach
and threw the limbs into the lake
where I’d thrown the guts before.
Something there might eat it,
perhaps a monster fish.
The head was where I’d left it
and there it would remain
until tomorrow’s light.
I was terrified to touch it.
I turned my head away
and kept it so.

From biology dissections
I knew the twitching spasms
of natural dead frogs,
but I lacked experience
with incredible amphibia
of this occult place.

Curse this throwing up
when there’s nothing more inside.
God damn you H. P. Lovecraft,
god damn New England , too,
curse the fucking state of Maine
curse this stinking lonely lake
and its demon frog
and while I’m at it,
curse my erstwhile love
wherever she may be,
for not being here with me,
but most of all curse me.

How will I fare this night?
There’s no human soul in sight
or near enough in mind.
I am more alone than I have ever been.
This path I’d taken:
first north
toward what I thought was love,
then further north away from it,
through overcompensation,
into discomfort beyond measure.
I have gambled with my soul,
battling wilderness
on its terms and with its odds,
an amateur with more to learn
than I thought I knew.
Though my life’s been spared so far,
my mind’s still in its vise
to be branded by the wild
before set free.
The memory of that frog
must stay with me.
It must!
Lest I lose the rest of me:
the human.

Here is firewood
and a fire.
Beside it I will be
awake til dawn,

I am so sorry.

L23 ®Copyright 1973 Jack Scott. All rights reserved.