The Turtle Song

When I was growing up, there was a stretch of dirt road that led through the marsh not far from my home. The road is long since paved over, and the marsh is houses; but back then, I used to see hundreds of frogs and turtles killed trying to get from one side of the road to the other. I’m not sure which amazed me more: the fact that this dirt track got enough traffic to flatten so many animals, or the fact that the animals kept trying so hard to cross from one unpromising bit of marsh to the other. I wondered what was so important that these creatures felt they needed to risk their lives. Something beautiful, I hoped. Something… unexpected.

Many years later, the memory of that road led me to write this poem. There is more music in this short verse than in anything else I have ever done. It needs to be read aloud: if you listen very carefully to the last stanza as it is read, you can hear the distant, whispery Voice of the Turtle in the background.

Where, oh where do the turtles go
    when they go
        so
            slow?

Turtle, and tortoise, and terrapin, too
Wend their way at the end of the day
To the beautiful sandy shore of the bay,
    And there they bask in the evening glow
        As the sun sinks low
            so
                slow.

And what do the turtles do, when they go
    where they go
        so
            slow?

Turtle, and tortoise, and terrapin, too
Join hands (or fins) — and the dance begins,
In gentle pirouettes and spins.
    They dance for the sun, as it sinks to rest
            in the distant West,
    And they sing a melodious terrapin tune
            to the rising moon.
    If you listen — shhhh! — you can almost hear,
    As they sing their song in a voice so clear,
        And sweet,
                and low
                    and oh,
                        so
                            slow.


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