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Before dark

June 13, 2010

Featured Article, Poetry

“Some say Turtle live forever. His children say he carries Mother Earth on his back through space as a reward for his courage and kindness.” ~ Native American Legend


I have lately been
thinking of turtles.
This began when

a box turtle, snatched from
the center line of  a country road,
peed a lime-green squiggle

on the passenger side
carpet of my car,
halted in a stranger’s driveway

to airlift the thing out
of harm’s way. It wants
to get out of the car,

this turtle. I risk my own
life & limb to reach down and
stop its clamber up and

into the car’s inner workings
as I proceed down twisty W.Va. 2.
A few miles later,

I hand the turtle over
to the seven-year-old daughter of
my friend Magdalene.

The girl and two pals put
it in the grass, expectant.
Waiting for the drawbridge

of its shell to open, so they might
say hello, peer into its orange eyes,
old as the hills

and get some news from this
ancient wayfarer. We decide –
I decide – judging the message of

the tobacco and mango-colored
hieroglyphs upon its shell
that it is no snapping turtle,

as a neighborhood boy with a head
shaved clean as a cue ball
says it is.

But a box turtle. Like the one
I picked up with some delight
when I was nine years old

in the backyard of our new house
the first day we arrived, in the new
suburb pushed out into

the fields and forests north of
Cincinnati in the middle ’60s.
A week later, a week after this

2nd turtle has been set free to
trundle off into Magdalene’s woods,
to whatever destiny awaits

a turtle, snatched by human hand
and delivered to another corner of
the universe, different but the same,

I get into my car. It’s a hot day
and I learn turtle urine indeed
has a bouquet.

I park high up in the Appalachian hills
and go walking, walking. Something
I’d been planning on in my part of

this universe has been… well, not
taken from my hands, but not
delivered there as my hands expected

it to be. This is not a big thing,
yet it is not a small thing

I feel the need to walk off
my disappointment, to
outwalk it, rather.

Leave it behind, not dwell
looking, crestfallen, at my
two empty hands

in front of me.
At the top of the hill
where I arrive at last,

the falling sun illuminates
the grass. I brush black flies
from my face,

set myself down a few feet
from the orange-white post that
marks the gas line

which courses beneath
this ridge. Explosions
are always possible.

I’ve come here, though,
in order expressly not
to explode.

A dusk wind passes
right to left through the
treetop leaves.

Birds chipper and cheep. Another
day on Earth comes
to its ending.

On the ground near the
gas-line marker, lying open
like the facing pages of

a prayer book,
lays the inside-out shell of
a turtle,

ivory-white, cracked in half.
Some red-tailed hawk’s
recent dinner?

Do hawks crack captured
turtles open? I cannot read
all these signs.

So, I choose instead
to just sit here,
amid these green, green

hills of Earth. To listen
and wait until the light
goes from gold to blue,

to purple, to grey.
Until it is time to get back
into my car,

tattooed still with
turtle piss (I really must
clean that up)

it gets
too dark.

june 13, 2010 | cabell county, w.va.



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4 Responses to “Before dark”

  1. Jeff Seager Says:

    I like this a lot, Doug.

    • admin Says:

      Thanks, Jeff. I’ve come to appreciate the ease of writing in that three-line poetic meter when nothing else – essays, songs – will do.

  2. Flow Says:

    I really like this piece, it’s moving and subtle and has strong sensory images, plus I love turtles. It brings to mind a certain well-known poem by a familiar Romantic –

    Wordsworth: “I have felt
    A presence that disturbs me with the joy
    Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
    Of something far more deeply interfused,
    Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
    And the round ocean, and the living air,
    And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,
    A motion and a spirit, that impels
    All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
    And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
    A lover of the meadows and the woods,
    And mountains; and of all that we behold
    From this green earth”