Poem of the week: Nightwalkers

by Siobhán Campbell

A common garden frog. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

A common garden frog. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

 

For such pride, here one pays the penalty
Purgatorio XI

We went, hoping to see the pipistrelle,
but hearing a low vibrating rasp, followed that
down the brown squelch of the pine wood
where the old pond had refilled after recent floods.
And there they were, the toads. Almost in standoff,
brinked with desire, the spotted warble of their throats
engorged, the blaze of their backs seeming to rise
in moonlight then drop in the beam of our weak torches.
Soon the whole pond spilled with toads,
toads pairing left and right, the soft pop as they
mounted each other, as nuptial pads gripped
desperate and fast for long strings of eggs to fertilise.

What did they know as they coupled here
where the pond was showing a scrim of oil?
That they’d search next time for a place to spawn
not washed through by slurry or fracked out of mind?
This night, the smell of waterweed drew them down
while we, with our guide, wanted to see some nature.
“Of thousands of streamers, few eggs will survive,” she says
and tells us to turn right on the spot, to each keep our place
in the mud, and to retrace our steps up through the wood
foot into foot, using the dips we had already made –
so as not to kill too many toads.

Siobhán Campbell is the author of six books of poetry and co-editor of Eavan Boland: Inside History, the 2016 book of essays on the poet’s work. Her poem is from Diving Dante (Recent Works Press), an anthology to mark 700th anniversary of the Italian poet’s death.