The road winds down through swamps to a lake
overhung with silence so thick the birds are still
as lake algae, as rotten logs, as the water snake
on the interface of lake and air, curling alone
among the hard-shelled painted shapes which brave
the sun’s fierce cry to echo their own
across the thin ripple of the water spiders’ dance, to fill
the thick water with their fever, with their deep reptile prints.

They sleep in blowfly heat, stalk the mud to grope
for their scavenge. It is their purpose and their hope
to seek the fringe of the lake and fry in the sun;
to lie quiet in fear, unnoticed, until the day has run,
and then slip like a leaf into the twilight murk;
to repeat it all at the sun’s increase,
with all years their twilight, all summers their days;
to grow their shells solid, and let the growing work
itself out, etching patterns in royal blaze;
and to bear it somehow until the growing cease.

If you remember an armored prince
and the sweet insistent silence of his song,
you know all too well the turtles’ voice;
you lie on their logs, you share their swampy grave
and steam in a rain-whipped sun, though not by choice,
and you know, when a soft susurrus rises with their fear
through mosquito air, through sun-cycles endlessly long,
that it is only their quiet crying that you hear.

March 11, 1975

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