Poem | Tortoise

(Joshua J. Cotten/Unsplash)

The only wild creature that ever
visited was the tortoise,
a living helmet that would be
crossing the heat-reflecting gravel again
suddenly after years of being gone,
a face that flinched in and then way in only
to slouch out again with its
china-crack mouth, and an eye
surrounded with oak-bark,
a pupil dark and without spark,
on a neck sheathed with ancient rubber.

And legs that swam, lurching strokes
stubbornly midair, tensile enough to lift
his entire chassis off the sidewalk
and lever his shadow ahead,
and strong enough to painfully claw
if we held him too close, on his way,
in the living room, on his
way turned any direction—

pointed at an offering of torn
lettuce, into that leaf, deeply even

angrily into the scattered green gift
set into the middle of the street,
a game we never
played for long because
the bronze puzzle-pieces
of his armor and his nothing-to-do-
with-us determination were already
done with our lives and he was
across the manhole cover, up the curb,
across the sun made of stone.

Published in the March 2021 issue: 
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Michael Cadnum has published nearly forty books, including the National Book Award Finalist novel The Book of the Lion. His most recent book of poetry, Kingdom, includes many poems that first appeared in Commonweal. He is working on a new book of poems, The Promised Rain. He lives in Albany, California.

Also by this author
Poem | The Return

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