We Cannot Return.

 By Caleb Wolfson-Seeley.

“My son stopped breathing before he was three, I was proud he caught on so early. I flooded him in the avocado green tub, willing him to: drink, drink, drink.”

Nothing. Life. Object Painting by Young-Sung Kim.

The froglets are half-becoming. I am three and entwined in a jungle of reeds and lily roots; their grotesque bodies flow between my fingers, their tails mocking me with what I cannot have. But they will be like me soon, all arms and legs, a shadow trailing as a murmur of what was.


The rushing in my ears are prayers: please, please, please.


I do not breathe above the surface. I gasp and choke on air; I am drowning in plain sight. I submerge myself every fortnight, absorbing oxygen through my skin, storing it in a bladder stretched tight, enough to last another two weeks, or three if need be. I share with others when asked, not very often. Most people assume you breathe the same way they do, which is to say inefficiently.


My son stopped breathing before he was three, I was proud he caught on so early. I flooded him in the avocado green tub, willing him to: drink, drink, drink. They said he had a seizure, they said I would drown him, they forced oxygen into his lungs through a tube. He forever will live in the air.


That was years ago. He catches tadpoles now, ensnaring them in his net. They plummet from his fingers to the bucket; my skin knows their relief, no longer gaping, exposed. I cannot warn them. I do not want to. Occasionally he scoops a froglet with the others, suspended between being and been: he stares for a very long time, remembering.


Where do their tails go? (furrowed brow)


Their bodies absorb them. (wistful gaze)


They eat their tails? (delighted grin)


Yes. They devour their past until it is another thing entirely.


At night, they are too loud for us to sleep. My son counts the glow in the dark stars on the ceiling as I stroke his hair and sing: love, love, love. I try to count the clicks of the frog calls, but I cannot disentangle them from each other: they surround me with their infiniteness. They snarl about me like reeds and lily roots and my son’s brown toes and every moment that is and was. I cannot breathe, so I slip from bed and plunge my parched body into the pond as the frogs continue their song. They are crying out for their forgotten tails. I cry out for mine, too, sometimes, but she has not answered yet.

The Blood Pudding – August 1, 2023

Caleb Wolfson-Seeley is a parent, baker, and writer living in Williamstown, MA on the unceded land of the Mohican Nation. Caleb’s writing has appeared in Eunoia Review, Ghost City Review, and MUTHA Magazine, for which Caleb’s work was nominated for the 2022 Pushcart Prize.


Artwork: Young-Sung Kim has a lifelong fascination with the natural world, and his works contemplate and challenge human beings’ place on Earth. Working with oil paints, he uses small-bristle brushes to achieve precise renderings of species, each one cast in bright light. Technically impressive, Kim’s highly staged works aim to honor his diminutive subjects. You can find his work here.