Scaphiopus couchii

Couch's spadefoot toad
Kathleen Hellen



No gland to shoulder venom, wartless, nocturnal—

its pupils catlike, vertical


for ambush, for leaping at the ant,

the nymphal termite, the beetle in the muck—


though true enough in urgency

its cycle gripped by drought


the intermittent flood of an arroyo interrupting

the snore of spadefoot sickling up, rushing


to colonize the artifact ephemeral

stock tanks at the base of roads, railroad

grades, in irrigated agriculture—rushing


in the agency of rain, the quick flash

of its mating, awakening


the hatchlings. Only days

to compete with fairy shrimp. To evict


the mammal’s burrow. Only now—the human time—

to abrogate extinction




Kathleen Hellen is the author of The Only Country was the Color of My Skin, the award-winning collection Umberto’s Night, and two chapbooks, The Girl Who Loved Mothra and Pentimento. For more on Kathleen visit