For years I wondered why all the tortoises
abruptly vanished. When we moved to Marseille
we'd found a whole dynasty, trundling along
the irrigation-channels of our big garden:
a grandfather the size of a football,
two babies that lay in my ten year-old palm
like scaly half-crowns, and lots in between;
they were the stars in the garden's cast
of lizards, blue salamander, scorpions,
praying mantis, hoopoes, bull-frogs.

It was 1955; the “Club France-Grande Bretagne”
were still delivering monthly parcels of food
to old Resistance fighters like Tonton Churchill
who lived in the depths of the Camargue. Father
was still battling – but garden pests, like snails;
then, when his peas and beans began to sprout,
I found the last tortoise, picked it up and screamed
at the maggots writhing in the shell, hurling it
into the oleanders. Now I mourn them and him –
the guilty, bumbling casualties of war.

Anna Crowe

If you have any comments on this poem,
Anna Crowe would be pleased to hear from you.