So small, huddled behind the
damp paper towel, the slender salamander
does not move until Dan wets his finger,
touches it to life; I can’t see its four toes
past hinged legs, so small. Only
its sideways eyes, copper and black,
shining with fear
in his clear, Tupperware world.
Brian found it under a log
in its damp home, prescribed by four-foot cliffs
it will not plunge past.
He brought it here to show students
its elusive beauty, snakelike, coiled
in on itself, and shows us
its picture, painted in an amphibian book,
his first book bought with his own money
when he was 10 and in love with mud and ’mandering,
catching larval great salamanders
in the heart of San Francisco.
Now, 32 years later,
they are dying, all of them,
from clean rivers in Costa Rica,
to California, where they breathe poison
straight through their skin.
He tells us, they are canaries,
that they have stopped singing,
that we must help bring back
their damp and loamy song
because there’s no escaping this coal mine,
the only home we have,
shared with, blessed by
these living tongues of flame.
by Paul Totah
April 1, 2000