The Turtle Overnight

I remember him last twilight in his comeliness. When it began to rain, he appeared in his accustomed place and emerged from his shell as far as he could reach – feet, legs, tail, head. He seemed to enjoy the rain the sweet-tasting rain that blew all the way across lake water to him from the mountains, the Alto Adige. It was as near as I’ve ever come to seeing a turtle take a pleasant bath I his natural altogether. All the legendary faces of broken old age disappeared from my mind, the thickened muscles under the chins, the nostrils brutal with hatred, the murdering eyes. He filled my mind with a sweet-tasting mountain rain, his youthfulness, his modesty, as he washed himself alone, his religious face.

For a long time now this morning, I have been sitting at this window and watching the grass below me. A moment ago there was no one there. But now his brindle shell sighs slowly up and down in the midst of the green sunlight. A black watchdog snuffles asleep just beyond him, but I trust neither is afraid of the other. I can see him lifting his face. It is a raising of eyebrows towards the light, an almost imperceptible turning of the chin, an ancient pleasure, an eagerness.

Along his throat there are small folds, dark yellow as pollen shaken across a field of camomilla. The lines on his face suggest only a relaxation, a delicacy in the understanding of the grass, like a careful tenderness I saw once on the face of a hobo in Ohio as he waved greeting to an empty wheat field from the flatcar of a freight train.

But now the train is gone, and the turtle has left his circle of empty grass. I look a long time where he was, and I can’t find a footprint in the empty grass. So much air left, so much sunlight, and still he is gone.

James Wright

(from This Journey)

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