Sitting at the edge of the water I can see the tails of the tadpoles kicking up minute storms of silt that twist and swirl, almost imperceptibly in the shallows ringed by weeds, algae, trash, and the decaying shells of Baghdad’s stray dogs. Once when on a patrol in the Ghazaliyah neighborhood of Baghdad I walked past a small pond. This pond was in the middle of a developed city block, and was probably spawned by a damaged water main spilling its guts out onto the depressed earth. It was definitely not a natural pond, as it also consumed the first floors of any home that happened to be unfortunately constructed in the wake of anger, hatred, and righteous war-fighting that, now, in retrospect, was undoubtedly the product of an unnatural subterranean deluge brought on by remotely-detonated 155mm artillery shells. The pond was dressed in dead dogs, trash, and mosquitoes and wore the musk of all of the above, but rotting for weeks in the sweltering heat (minus, of course, the mosquitoes, which did not rot at all except in my fantasies). And at the edge of this pond, impossibly alive in a dead space, were thousands of tiny juvenile frogs. Thousands. In the shallows were thousands more tadpoles, these barely perceptible beneath the film of oil on the surface and the murkiness of the refuse in the water. It blew my mind that they could survive in waste that made my stomach churn and wish for a hot shower far, far away from the crumbled and diseased infrastructure of Iraq. Cholera was supposed to run rampant there, not frogs. Nonetheless there they were, and in multitudes. Of course, I really didn’t want to be far, far away from there; on the contrary I wanted to shed my life and join in on the lawlessness that a land at war enjoys (or suffers from). But that is why we are here, at water’s edge, looking for swirls that only exist in collections of garbage and sewage and the most visible link in the chain of life (the point where we die, and are still, and return to single realizations of the elements that compose our bodies): Equilibrium.
And that is where we are. At this junction where everything collides, not on a rational or chronological path but on a sort of incidental intersection of non-concentric ellipses and straight-line flights, we have returned to equilibrium. The tadpoles, with their twitching flagella, have stirred up the sediment in my jar and made my insides into a murky homogenous mixture. At once the sediment was subtle and a separate entity that infected only memories and my past. These things are not real, they are not tangible and not perceptible; as daydreams go they could be fantastic meanderings of a lonely mind. I am trying to be empathetic, I say to myself, and the sediment remains in its bed of silt and residue and latent poison. It is not a factor in my chemical makeup. And then the tadpoles begin their crazy dance aquatic.
What was once mutable, the clearness of pure water, could capture the hues of anything passing through and refract it into a prismatic display of wondrous intensity. Purple hazes passed through and I felt calm and comfortable. The sun shined in and I was a summer day. The days and weeks of Baghdad rolled on and still failed to muddy this glass; I was instead filled with a shimmering sense of purpose. And here we are staring deep down into swirls and churning clouds of a colorless shroud.
Maybe what I call tadpoles are instead the steady drippings of vodka into my veins. Maybe what I call tadpoles are what my mind drops on me when I am not filling every second of my waking life actively pursuing something. Maybe my glass is always muddied by the tadpoles, but I have been keeping myself appropriately busy and distracted. Whichever way the mud is cut, whichever way the tadpoles are excited into a frenzy and whichever way my mason jar gets chummed up by waste and dead dogs and trash and mosquito larvae, I know that this is my equilibrium. I know this is stasis. I know because no matter which path I choose to run along and which orbit I follow I end up back here staring down into the fine grit swirling in imperceptible cloudy storms. Imperceptible only because knowing isn’t perception. But I feel the swirls. I feel equilibrium… I feel what it means to return to the place in which we each fit. My equilibrium was never meant to be calm, clear water. My equilibrium, it seems, was always meant to survive and thrive only in turbulent, toxic, poisoned waters.
The patrol continued, I walked on looking for terrorist faces to shoot, and left the frogs and tadpoles to do whatever they needed to do to survive in a world turned into a toxic wasteland. I have no doubt that they thrived. I would have… and did.