Lessons

My daughter dreads middle school science

            because all they study is cataclysm,

                        end-stopped species after end-stopped species,

                                    earth’s slow dwindling.

                        There is no longer a world to study

            that teems with life, not a globe ecstatic

in its wild spinning. Day after day,

            they regard the crumbling edge,

                        broken asphalt where a road runs out

                                    and we launch ourselves like lemmings

                        over the side. When I was a girl,

            my most lasting science experiment consisted

of pinching pieces one by one from

            my mother’s impatiens plants then watching

                        through a tiny drinking glass as

                                    each stalk sent new roots fingering out

                        into the water. My daughter sits quiet

            in science through all the bad news.

She sits quiet during the active shooter

            drills, even the one that goes on so long

                        her teacher thinks it is the real thing,

                                    and she’s quiet in the car after the birthday

                        party for the girl whose mom was killed

            by that crazy man in Las Vegas. I tell her I want to go

solar, because of global warming, and she says

            she hates science, and I keep thinking

                        of the IRS auditor we had—the one who truly regretted

                                    telling us what a shoddy bookkeeper I am—

                        how he used to be a CPA and missed it.

            His clients all had futures back then,

and he helped to plan them.

            Being an IRS agent is all forensics

                        the way 8th grade science is all

                                    forensics now. The way when I think

                        of the future, it’s more like looking

            at an ending than a beginning. Like

                        performing an autopsy on something

                                    even as it keeps on living. At dinner,

                                                my daughter reminds me she hates

                                    vegetables, says I should let her

                        eat whatever she wants to now, while

            she’s young and still can. Looking

                        backward at her future, I think

                                    she may be right. Maybe it already

                                                will not matter.

 

 

 

 

Frog of God

When the vet prescribes medicine for your frog,
you think it smells all wrong but use it anyway,
dousing him with goodness of heart,
watching his smooth body drink it in—
and see you’ve begun to kill him.

His beautiful, turquoise skin darkens and lesions open on it.
You rinse him in spring water,
but he’s dying, big eyes gone cloudy.

Everyone tells you
he was just a frog,
but you know
he was a frog of God,
fat green Buddha on his branch.

Now, he looks like the baby in Hiroshima,
burned flesh peeling off. Now, he stares
as you cross the room with eyes
like the eyes of Auschwitz trying to capture
the world’s averted gaze.

He could almost be Christ Himself,
emptying the bitter cup
that you, with such pure intentions,
filled to overflowing.

 

 

 

 

Francesca Bell is the author of Bright Stain (Red Hen Press, 2019) and the translator of Kitchens and Trains: Poems by Max Sessner (Red Hen Press, 2023). Her work appears widely in such journals as B O D Y, New Ohio Review, North American Review, Massachusetts Review, Mid-American Review, Prairie Schooner, and Rattle. She lives with her family in Novato, California.