The night we brought him home
From where he’d stayed throughout the move,
The turtle died. How Landon knew, I was never clear
Because I was more focused on the Injustice of Death,
How the Kids Would Take It,
And then, forgetting, when I found it awaiting burial
(Formal rites of interment must be delayed until the family can be gathered)
In the bathroom in the middle of the night,
Looked to see what I’d bumped (a bucket with a dead turtle sitting listlessly
Inside like a giant rock one of the kids had found and left
And saw—of course I screamed. There are women who can kill rattlesnakes, set
Mouse traps, clean up the remains
Of whatever the cat brings in. I’ve known them. But they are never
The face that greets me in the mirror. I would not burn down the house over such a thing,
I’d just drive out of state.
The ceremonies progressed, Landon playing pall bearer, minister, and grave-digger
(With the borrowed shovel the handyman was strangely glad to loan).
We said a prayer (St. Francis preached to birds):
Please grant peace to
Thank you for the joy of
All creatures are Your handiwork.
And then the call. From his place of suit and tie, he’d searched a little longer,
Wondered what had given rise to sudden death and found
That reptiles (even turtles) hibernate.
He might not be dead. He said he’d never ask me to dig up a dead turtle
Like some kind of twisted horror flick…
Of course, the only thing I could imagine worse than digging up a dead turtle
Was a live turtle dying slowly in my back yard.
I did what any mother would do:
- · Locked the kids in the basement.
- · Poured a glass of whiskey.
- · Found a broken beach shovel (because by now the handyman was gone).
- · Sat down by the turtle’s fresh-turned grave.
- · Began speaking to myself/my long-dead father about Mark Twain and Faulkner and the funny way the dead come back to haunt us.
The thing about unburying dead turtles is this: you have to touch them. Live turtles
Are potentially hazardous
If they are snapping turtles or
If you lick them. But the hazard is only potential, and otherwise they’re funny creatures
That run away like dogs when you put them in the lawn
And run in circles like bugs if you trap them
And scowl like my great-grandmother when my brother was being bad. Dead turtles
Are a different story. Their potential for hazard has been fully met: they are the epitome of dead.
And here I was touching one.
Not just touching, either. I was digging him up, collecting him in a box,
To take back to my kitchen to nurse him back to life:
After Failed Experiment with Monsters, Dr. Frankenstein Moves to Zombie Turtles.
When resurrecting turtles, you have to:
- · Wrap them in towels.
- · Drop water on them from syringes, three drops at a time (like a witch’s potion).
- · Put a heat lamp above them (because heat + a dead body = LIFE).
You have to be patient. Let the turtle warming in the kitchen gestate
While you try to think of other things (not the times you threatened to make him into soup).
You have to check him periodically (if you’re not staying with him throughout the procedure),
To look for signs of life.
Signs of death are clearer, though. Once putrefaction sets in, the situation ceases to be
I still don’t know exactly how.
I screamed something like “Mouse in the kitchen!”
Loaded the kids in the van
And waited at McDonald’s for Landon to come home
And re-bury the dead turtle.