Buying The Painted Turtle

Two boys, not quite men, pretended to let it go only to catch it again and again. And the turtle, equally determined, each time gave its heart to escape them. We were near the base of the old dam where the river became a translucent, hissing wall, fixed in falling, where, by the size of it, the turtle had long trusted its defense, the streaming

algae, green, black, red - the garden of its spine- not to fail it. They held it upside down, the yellow plastron exposed; they hoisted it over their heads like a trophy. I left it to you to do the bargaining, exchange the money for us to save it, let it go;

fast, it disappeared into deeper
water, returning to another present,
where the boulders cut the current to cast safer shadows of motionlessness. We were already forgotten, then, like most gods after floods recede, after fevers break.

We did not talk about what we had bought - an hour, an afternoon, a later death, worth whatever we had to give for it.

by Claudia Emerson

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