By Grace Ellis

As winter edges into spring,
In the soggy meadows near the creek,
The unseen toads begin to hummmmmmm.

First, the low vibrations—like massed basses,
Now, the piercing high quavers chime in,
Then the middle voices fill the gap.

Not a major triad, no.
Something more modal—
Or quarter tones, perhaps—
But not discordant,
Blended in perfect harmony.

Silence now.
Then the layered sound builds again,
The crescendo like a train approaching,
Passing, fading away down the tracks,
Its echoes ringing in our ears.

Do they make subtle adjustments—
These amphibious carolers—
To build their wall of sound?
Are they instinctively attuned?
Or are they jostling for the attention of a fickle female?
Which suitor’s pitch will she prefer
In this opera buffa for bufo americanus?

In the swelling sound waves—whatever their origin—
I hear The Dixie Hummingbirds,
Drawing out that chord,
In anticipation of love just like a rock;
The choir of Westminster Abbey—
Tiny boys, old men, and those between—
Calling to remembrance polyphonies of centuries long past;
The tenor line of Lady Smith Black Mambazo,
Floating over the rumbling bass foundation;
Welsh singers serenading the casket all through the night;
The Blind Boys of Alabama rattling the walls of Jericho;
Boisterous shape-noters racing through a fuguing tune;
Harsh Bulgarian voices, rising,
Filling a Byzantine Dome with sweet praise;
The high lonesome harmonies of Appalachia;
Or the pulsing of Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Not to mention the overtones of singing bowls,
The good vibrations of the theramin,
The kazoo, the jaw-harp, the didgeridoo,
The bagpipe, the sitar, and every instrument devised
For human fingers, human breath,
In all their glorious combinations.

If all this music should be silenced
In a catastrophic collapse of civilization,
The survivors could, over time,
Rebuild the entire soundscape
By listening to the singing toads.


1 thought on “TUNING TOADS

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