My mind is full of turtles:
the green half-dollar dimestore sliders;
huge mud-drenched snappers in Allegheny swamps;
the etched and sculpted dry desert tortugas
in their islands of sand; and not least
the flat skipping-stone pond turtles rife in the hills.

And the stuff of dreams: tiny simulacra;
terrapins made of serpentine with eyes of porphyry;
others with removable shells,
eating their own body parts in arcane ritual;
dark vicious giants lurking in silent streams.

And the mundanities: the hinged plastron,
domed carapace, the ubiquitous scales;
the warm eggs ripening in sunny sand;
scrambling through undergrowth for crushed insects;
and, beckoning at the end, a dark smooth paved defeat.

On a cut glass plain, at the edge of distance,
a jewelled turtle rises in a lake of fire.
Motionless: when his head turns, the whole of space swivels.
Immobile: the philosopher’s stone, the missing mass.
His body broken, his blood debt drains
into the veins engraving the face of the risen sun.

His flat oval ears cannot hear,
but the unheard music
breaks and reforms the eternal cadences of Paradise.

March 7, 1986

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