Frogs (#15) by Colin Rafferty

To come back again. To return as someone, something else. To get the opportunity to try it all once more. To be a creature that does not feel regret. To live one’s life within the same square mile. To be a thing that does not desire, that does not want, that does not fail.

In retirement, near his house in Pennsylvania, he will walk past a frog pond and watch them at play, living what seem like simple frog lives. He must know he has failed, that the war that rages to the south is in part the fault of his inaction. To be certain, the country only split upon the election of his successor, but he knows that the fault lines grew terrible and wide during his four years.

Metamorphosis, we might suppose. You begin as one thing and end up another. Out of many, one. Out of one, two. From one, three-fifths. He’s not far from where Mason and Dixon drew their line. As above, so below.

He has been divided, shorn apart. One entrance to his house resembles a Northern manse, the other a Southern plantation. Where he receives visitors depends on the visitor. He has to know who can be told what. He has to change as needed. He has to hide, to reveal, to conceal.

Once he was the visitor, the gentleman caller, and once, he watched her funeral procession pass his house, finding himself in the grip of the unnameable. Then in Washington, rumors about a congressman, again unnameable. And the secessionists, innumerable. What can he do? He’s happiest when he leaves that place to become something else. The frog is not simple. The frog transforms. The frog morphs from one state to another.

He can hear the frogs call, searching for connection, communion, union. To become one would be to leave behind this human form for something more and less terrible, something both more and less joyous, something both more and less painful, a chance to change, a chance to stay, a chance to call out and slip under the pond’s surface, to dive down and vanish. What does the frog know of love or of loss?

And yet, here is only the walk on human legs back to the house. He can see the window through which he watched his love, his chance, carried to the grave. He can see the façade at which he greets some, but not all. How tragic, how human, how public. How like a frog.


Colin Rafferty teaches nonfiction writing at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. His first book, a collection of essays on monuments titled Hallow This Ground, was published last year by Break Away Books/Indiana University Press.


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