Life under a rock: it’s a wonderful life
For the beautiful blue-spotted salamander.
In a summer woods not far from water,
Near a marsh’s edge or a brook’s meander,
You will have to roll over some boulders
And push and pull at a few rotting logs
For an honest chance to encounter
This shiest cousin of toads and frogs.
And in the impression a log leaves in peat
You might be amazed at the fauna you’ll meet:
Ivory grubs and scrabbling black beetles,
Gleaming redworms, a dusky nightcrawler,
A slug that’s likely running for its life,
A centipede flashing its ruddy armor.
If among the spiders and ants you discover
(Before you lower the roof that you raised)
A dark wet jewel curled up in a crevice,
A creature too sleepy to even look dazed—
Less likely to flee than to simply surrender:
Ah, you have found a blue-spotted salamander.
He’s as likely to bite as a butterfly,
So gather him carefully onto your palm
And marvel at his delicate beauty,
His underworld chill, his monastic calm.
Only inches in length and half his length tail,
With his soft moist skin of a midnight blue
In turquoise confetti, and small drowsy eyes
Dimmed by the sorrows his throat trembles to;
But the four tiny feet with their toes apart,
And his miniature ribs: these break your heart;
And you’re bound to ask how on Earth he survives,
With no scales or spines, no shell of a turtle,
Slim as a snake but no menace or speed,
Soft as a frog, but he can’t hope to hurtle—
He crawls down the crevice between two fingers
To drop on the hand you hold ready below,
Then between two fingers he’ll drop down again,
And will do this longer than you’d care to know:
His inner compass points away from the sun,
And at least for him now, this encounter is done.
He hides by day; he hunts by night; he is more
Or less an insectivore, and breeds (he and she)
In spring pools of rain; and for all his fine taste
In color and form, he tastes as foul as can be,
And might even give up a limb or a tail
That hungry pursuers can sample his flavor,
A tail or limb he can re-grow with ease:
So salamanders are not without favor.
And now let us do him the added good
Of returning him to his home under wood.
And may his species never be threatened,
May his natural realm not be laid waste;
Should the world grow ever-more ugly and false
Through ignorance, greed and deplorable taste,
May all of his beauty, sorrow and peace
Be availed to one consoled to know there,
Below a treefall in patterns of fern
Where wild sunflowers gather and stare,
The blue-spotted salamander is changing too,
Growing ever-more handsome and ever-more true.