(from Night of a Thousand Blossoms)

And so I swam out to where the turtles live,
about a half mile off shore where the bottom
is lava and coral and struck with canyons of white sand.
The turtles are green and as big as the wheels
on an automobile or a truck. They like to glide
about twenty feet down, where they are sovereign
and agile and untouchable, but I was raised on the ocean
and I still know how to go down deep and stay there:
You float for a minute and go limp, and you breathe deeply
through the tube you hold clenched in your teeth.
Then you let everything out and slip under.
You move with the languor and sorrow of turtles.
You practice their ease, their cumbersome grace.
What is the mind of turtle? In one moment I saw two
come together and appear to kiss. I guess they were saying,
Come on down, let’s see if you’ve got anything left. I kicked easy.
I blew the pain out of my ears more than once. I chased
one in simple play, in a spiral, tighter and tighter. Maybe
they were amused. Maybe they wanted to kill me.
An old bull came by, aloof, a beard of barnacles on
his hangman’s head. How many times down for me? Ten?
Thirty? How long like a stick on the choppy water?
Well, I admired how the turtles watched me over their shoulders,
I appreciated their curiosity and their disdain. When you are
down like that, you get two signals. The first is a quick
need to breathe. You let that one go, blow out a little,
and the urge passes—or you get used to it. Then you
are empty but touched with dementia. Then you can speak
with the god of the sea in his crown of weeds or his goddess and
her many shells. Then you are amphibious and immortal and you
can join the turtle dance again, or just hold to a piece of coral
and hang like a tail of kelp in the eddies. When you
understand that you are in your home and need never leave, you’d better look up. Then you see how far that old world is
and how much work you have to do. And so
I pulled my way up from the deep, kicking and kicking,
and the turtles just watched, not caring much. I lay
on the surface and breathed and rested until I could lift
my head to see where the current had set me.
The sun was red and swollen and low behind me,
and the long clouds were purpling under their hems and edges.
Now there was so much I had to leave.
And now there was so much I had to get back to.
The beach was a blur of tiny palms, the ocean was windy and warm.
And so I stroked, slow and easy. And so I kicked and I kicked.


More Poems from Night of a Thousand Blossoms:

I Am Not a Keeper of Sheep
The Persimmon Bough
There Were Footsteps in the Garden