Poem: The Judges and the Frog

by Ellen E. Taylor

An account of  the Dusky Gopher Frog’s Defense, and Fight for His Life, before the  US Supreme Court, October 1, 2018 and the consequent US Fish and Wildlife Service’s and the National Marine Fisheries Service’s revision of the definition of Habitat


On a seepage slope, amid

Sly pitcher plants,  a longleaf log

Once tortoise-tenanted, now hid

A worried dusky gopher frog.


She’d lived 300 million years

And, fixed on the ever-fluid hub

Of evolution’s pioneers

Survived the fateful Chicxulub:


Slipped through the Thermal Maximum

Of fifty million years ago

Finessed the Pleistocene, and come

To this old Log through fire and snow.


Now, in wiregrass beyond 

She watched  an excavator crawl

Across her  last ephemeral pond:

Savannah turned to Shopping Mall.


Ephemeral ponds (They disappear)

Were crucial for her pollywogs:

Fish swim in ponds that last all year

And fishes eat the sons of frogs.


Her longleaf pines, her dappled  shade!

Long gone. The orchid bogs were dead.

The woodpecker with red cockade

Clung to existence by a thread.


A loader’s blade interred  with  gravel

Habitats long  interlinked.

Afar  she heard a Judge’s gavel

Warn she might  soon  be extinct.


 A  dusky frog, in crisis, makes

A magic cape. Now it annealed

Peptides, proof to plagues and quakes

More steadfast than a missile shield.


Mississippi left behind

She bounded northward. Time was short.

Arguments flashed through her mind

To move the august Supreme Court.


“Oyez! Oyez!” came the cry

So, with her bosom tight  aclench

And  stately hop, and purposed eye

The Dusky Frog approached the Bench.


And now, the Judges  heard and  saw

A frog instruct, as Age would Youth

Upon the sloth of human law

In pursuit of Cosmic Truth.


“Your Honors!” eight imposing brows

Inclined to view the appellee

(Recall that ancient law allows 

For interspecies comity.)


“Kinship brings me to this court!

Our genome links us: we’re not strange,

While through the eons we cavort

As interlocutors of change.


And though you’ve left the ephemeral pond

Determinative as a child

We have a taxonomic  bond!

You, Judges, are, in fact, still wild.


But, violate the Web of Life

Its patterns numinous and wise

To undo with judicial knife

A Being, portends your own demise.


The Judges brightened, pleased to meet

This as yet unknown relative

Weyerhaeuser from his seat

Groped for the right appellative.


The frog  acknowledged the Attorney:

“I am Life on Earth!” she cried

Your friend on Existence’s journey ,

Trailing  our elusive Guide.


Mr. Bishop, your acclaim

Precedes you through biota circles

Hooded omens greet your name

From bees to owls, to whales and turtles.”


Mr. Bishop bowed. The frog

With mild amphibian savoir faire

Began. “Your Honors, dialog

Cannot delay another year.


My Mississippi bogs are gone..

My need for habitat is critical:

Lethal are the  lot and lawn.

Raise  your solemn hand juridical!


My songs now praise  the Bayou State,

Magnolia  and manatee,

Our graves those woodlands permeate:

My name was once St. Tammany!


There let me live, on lilied knoll!

Ephemeral ponds will me delight

Until your species can control

Its suicidal appetite!”


Weyerhaeuser took a breath

But Justice Gorsuch cried, “This case

Is not about frog life or death

Or if on Earth she has a place.


It’s use of agency discretion

We’re discussing at this hour,

Does it require our intercession

Here to limit federal power?”


Chief Justice Roberts glowed with pleasure

Keen to argue Law and Fact.

“My friend,” he said, “Here we must measure

The Endangered Species Act”.


He raised a finger pedagogic:

“Adjectives compact and pare

Their nouns. A brown bear, says our logic

Must, quite  clearly, be a bear. 


Therefore, habitat, to be critical

To  itself must correspond.

In my perception analytical

Here you only have a pond.”


Weyerhaeuser smiled at last.

“Our tree farm there is ours  to log.

The realty value’s growing fast

And we’ll change nothing for a frog.”


As does her species when chagrined

Frog hid her eyes. Although abstract

These words were like an evil wind

Athwart the Endangered Species Act.


With  elan then, of her order,

(Ranidae of these are chief),

She leaped the Press, and Court Recorder

Landing on Judge Robert’s’s brief.


She fixed each  Judge  with space-black eyes.

There, in their depths, they  glimpsed savannahs

Bursting  with  beasts of every size

And midst them,  raising  wild hosannas


In  laughing camaraderie

Through a  world of ambient wonder

Danced their Forebears, fierce and free

Exulting in the fire and thunder.


“Justices!” Her voice resounded

Through the Court, saluting each

“Human Chaos is unbounded

Heretical overreach!


Careless of Life’s Mystery

For venal ends you laws deploy

A birthmark on your history:

You do not  know what you destroy!


Market is your Woodland god

Gain your goddess of the Sea

Your specious baseline, plumbed, though broad

With superficiality!


With habitat we kingdoms lose.

Your Species Act requires redress

“At any cost!” No chance to choose

You humans must clean up your mess!”


From the Bench escaped a grunt,

An indeterminate expression

Laying bare the urge to punt

To Justice Roberts’s grammar lesson.


(The frog, absorbing this, was prescient:

In definition reemployed

The Agencies were acquiescent:

Excluded habitat destroyed.)


Paused, the frog peered round the Hall

And saw to her unbounded glee

Raul Grijalva by the wall

The Tribes, Earthjustice, CBD,


The desert tortoise, EPIC, whales,

A condor on the chandelier

And salmon streams, with flashing tails

And music marvelous to hear.


She gravely leaped through shining  air

Saluted Court with courteous mien.

They heard her last, low words: “Take care

Surviving the Anthropocene!”