Friday, June 19, 2009

Turtle Time



To a Box Turtle
by JOHN UPDIKE

Size of a small skull, and like a skull segmented,
of pentagons healed and varnished to form a dome,
you almost went unnoticed in the meadow,
among its tall grasses and serrated strawberry leaves
your mottle of amber and umber effective camouflage.

You were making your way through grave distances,
your forefeet just barely extended and as dainty as dried
coelacanth fins, as miniature sea-fans, your black nails
decadent like a Chinese empress’s, and your head
a triangular snake-head, eyes ringed with dull gold.

I pick you up. Your imperious head withdraws.
Your bottom plate, hinged once, presents a No
with its courteous waxed surface, a marquetry
of inlaid squares, fine-grained and tinted
tobacco-brown and the yellow of a pipe smoker’s teeth.

What are you thinking, thus sealed inside yourself?
My hand must have a smell, a killer’s warmth.
It holds you upside down, aloft, undignified,
your leathery person amazed in the floating dark.
How much pure fear can your wrinkled brain contain?

I put you down. Your tentative, stalk-bending walk
resumes. The manifold jewel of you melts into grass.
Power mowers have been cruel to your race, and creatures
less ornate and unlikely have long gone extinct;
but nature’s tumults pool to form a giant peace.




Parrots, tortoises and redwoods live a longer life than men do;
Men a longer life than dogs do;
Dogs a longer life than love does.
~ Edna St Vincent Millay



You can't make a turtle come out,
You can't make a turtle come out,
You can call him or coax him or shake him or shout,
But you can't make a turtle come out, come out,
You can't make a turtle come out.

If he wants to stay in his shell,
If he wants to stay in his shell,
You can knock on the door but you can't ring the bell,
And you can't make a turtle come out, come out,
You can't make a turtle come out.

Be kind to your four-footed friends,
Be kind to your four-footed friends,
A poke makes a turtle retreat at both ends,
And you can't make a turtle come out, come out,
You can't make a turtle come out.

So you'll have to patiently wait,
So you'll have to patiently wait,
And when he gets ready, he'll open the gate,
But you can't make a turtle come out, come out,
You can't make a turtle come out.

And when you forget that he's there,
And when you forget that he's there,
He'll be walking around with his head in the air,
But you can't make a turtle come out, come out,
You can't make a turtle come out.

-Malvina Reynolds

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

As a child, our fanily lived next to a large woods. The neighborhood kids would go out there in the morning, find a turtle, borrow nail polish from our respective mothers and put our initials on the bottom of the turtle.

I remember the thrill a year or two later finding that initialed turtle. Today, I would use a "natural" nail polish. :)

Turtle Towner

Anonymous said...

Nature recycles. Why don't we? Nearly every county has been recycling for years. Europeans have recycled for decades as have many American cities. What is up with Jackson County?

A recent survey of the last few events in the county reveals a tremendous amount of refuse that could have been reused.

Let's lobby Jackson County, the towns of Sylva and Dillsboro and Cashiers to get with the program!

GULAHIYI said...

Wow, what a cool story. I've always been fond of box turtles. If we saw them in the road, back when I was a kid, we'd stop and set them over to the side. They are amazing and inspiring creatures.