The Tortoise

An apartment collapse in Turkey, the rise
of heroin, death of girl babies in China—

we turn from the news to sit on the porch,
rest our necks against the chair backs

and bask in late sun. But there's
that beaked leathery face, that black accordian neck,

and tiny drill-bit eyes, fixed, unblinking.
Gumming bright lettuce and ground beef,

his slow ancient jaws move side to side,
miniature tectonic plates.

Underneath us, floorboards creak. Birdsong,
fair weather clouds, scent of orange blossoms—

he stretches his neck as if to test their weight,
then pulls halfway back and pauses,

lingering on his own front porch, serene
with primal wisdom. Or so you could think,

until pierced by that Job-like gaze
no pat or good boy ever warms. He turns,

and on flat splayed claws scratches
across the yard to his own clapboard house,

where, house within house, that old reptile brain
beds itself down on hard dirt.

by Betsy Sholl

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