Saturday, August 15, 2009

Landscape with a Mud Turtle

I’d have thought my life at halfway would look
half-grown, half-gone, or half-born,
But try as I might I can’t get far enough off to see it.
Among the reeds, the rocking cattails,
the hollow seed pods of last summer’s lilies,
I can’t for the life of me get a long view. And why should I?

A doe drifts along the rise, fur fading with the season,
stiff and lithe by turns—the same one,
I know her by the scar, I see often browsing at the edge
where woods and marsh and graveyard lands converge.
What, I wonder, does she see? By what mark
would she know me from others of my species?

When I was a girl I used to lie down
in the pressed-grass hollows where the deer had slept.
I tried to dram myself a deer,
that wordless, that meant-to-be-there.
I pressed the rough, live ends of their antlers
against my forehead and wished.

Under the pond mud, half-frozen, dormant among the dormant,
turtles breathe through their skins,
barely, not quite dead in their shells. Geodes.
Come spring, come stronger light, they thaw,
gasping at ice cracks, clawing at the slush and scum,
self-resurrected. It happens every year. Until it doesn’t.

A pond turns marsh, turns meadow in no time flat:
silting in, not drowning all the windblown seed that falls,
letting the alder and pussy willow take root,
parching the pondweeds, deporting the turtles,
the snails that cling to the lily pads’ undersides,
and the waterbirds that ate them.

A transformation before your eyes.
Where I skated in spirals one winter, beech trees grow:
Silver for silver, not everything lost.
Where red-winged blackbirds flew up singing
victorie, victorie, cardinals search the brambles for berries
and dogs off their leashes snuffle up rabbits.

After an ice storm, I found a wren stiff in the cold,
its russet specks and stripes magnified,
its eyes shut, its beak like something carved
and drawn on. I closed it on my hands
and, fool that I am, blew through the gaps between my thumbs.

-Jennifer Atkinson