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15 Chelonian Rhapsody two poems by charles harper webb If some accident of evolution had led reptiles to develop a neocortex while maintaining their nonexistent child-rearing habits, they might have ended up writing powerful verse about some other deep-seated biochemical urge—temperature regulation, say—but there would be no love sonnets in the reptile canon. —Steven Johnson, Discover magazine To drag out of my burrow on a cloudy day, barely warmth enough inside my shell to burn the fat that fuels my limbs, stiff as logs from sunless sleep. To spy a gap between the trees, and watch space-time run until the clouds crack open, and the sun swims free. To feel its fire bake down, making my shell glow, my brain become a sun that simmers like the fusion-farms where we raise snails, worms, lettuce, grapes. To let June heat swell in me like the urge to mate when a high-shelled beauty drags by, urine-scent sweeter than dewberries in rain—to feel that heat, which powers flight between the stars, return me to the time when Old Turtle worshipped the sun, before 16 ecotone we learned the science of eternal life, shoved lesser beings off extinction’s cliff, and owned the world—alone with the machines we build for company. To let solar winds fan me into a flame of praise, then, drawn to some pond’s sheen, let my legs swim me down as in the ancient, hibernating days, dark waters closing like my birth-egg around my dimming dreams. 17 I felt it squiggling down my throat—a snail, a slug—but like Saint Peter, I denied it. Come lie down, my bones told me, lie down and rest. But I denied the armies gathering in my chest, the yellow bats that streamed out of my sinus caves. Squirrels coughed, Gray. Blue, jeered the jays. Deep-sea purple, raved the sky, where a gold sun blew white cloud-clippers whipping by. Green, cheered the trees, urging me on. This was my prime. I was the prime contender, primed to win. The pump was primed. A woman sat beside me, primed for love. How could I whine? How many summonses to bliss can one pass by? She who would kiss might close her mouth. She who’d turned down her bedcovers could turn me down instead, could turn away. I’d swallowed pills to cage the bats; yet still they flew: nose impregnators; microbes spraying out, away. Recline with me, what-I-had cried. I bring you heat with shivering, a burning pillow for your breaking-open head. Where you go, I. Your influence will ring the earth, and never die. So on it came. Like spring seeding the world with weeds, I passed it on. The people close to me fell down. Those singing, fell silent. Those waking, fell asleep—fell fevered; Pass It On charles harper webb 18 ecotone hard. Was I to blame? Offered a hand, I gave one back. Offered a peach, I dared a bite. Offered sweet lips, I kissed. I touched where thousands would, breathed where thousands did. Somebody gave a gift. Like a prayer, I passed it on. I worked and played well with others. I was a good boy. I shared. ...


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