The Terrapin Question

We never named him or knew his sex.
He wasn't happy if turtles could be happy.
I purchased an aquarium to protect
him from the cats. His chitinous serape
was not enough, I thought, to keep him safe
in this unnatural habitat. His back
was a mosaic of rounded squares.
His belly plate was yellow, marked with black.
I didn't know if he liked water or land.
I placed him in a shallow bath to see.
Proving he was no amphibian,
he sought the dry end like a refugee.
My daughter left for college.
His care devolved on me.

I tried to furnish him with water and food
but never cared or really understood
his needs, so my care wasn't that good.
When I'd put him on the floor for exercise
he moved so slow I didn't see him crawl
when suddenly he'd be at the far wall
as if by magic, as if turtles could fly.
They can't.  But living things can always die.

When he first disappeared I was disturbed.
I looked in closets, crevices and thought
he'd joined the two iguanas we misplaced.
I looked in every conceivable hiding place
except beneath the sofa where the space
was much too narrow to admit him, I judged,
when lifting it I saw his carapace!
Relieved, I placed him in his house of glass
and crumbled lettuce for his tiny beak,
put out fresh water, forgot him for a week.

I found him with his legs and head and tail
extended as if posed in a museum.
I picked him up-- there was a sour smell
and no attempt to pull a single limb
into its case.  I had always wondered
if his kind died outside or in the shell.
Now I knew.  I threw him in the trash
like a spoiled pie, dead of neglect.
When my last hour comes will I retract
inside myself, all doors and windows closed,
or have the courage to die with limbs exposed?

C.E. Chaffin

If you've any comment on this poem, C.E.Chaffin would be pleased to hear from you.