Turtle Song

She enchanted the land
when she could feel in her bones
the white man coming—
Jimmy Redfox told me
before basketball practice one day—
to take what he could
for himself.
Standing on the shore
of Dutchman’s Creek,
the elder mother
of the turtle clan
chanted to sky land water
so all would return
to her one day. How long
before my father’s father’s father
claimed over two hundred acres
and three miles
of the creek’s north shore
Jimmy couldn’t say.
But he could tell
how they buried mother turtle
at the base of a young oak
in a field in sight
of the rushing water
so she could become the tree’s spirit,
watch the land as she grew,
and when the tree died
she would be free
to set the spirits in motion,
returning the land
to whom it once belonged.
I don’t believe in curses,
I told Jimmy.
But I did.

* * * * *

Kevin C. Peters transitioned into functional adulthood in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he received his MFA. He then fled the cold to spend several years teaching and traveling abroad. He currently resides in Oregon. His other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Turtle Summers

.
hat season the creek bed dried

to hardpan where we would drive
three-wheelers over crusted husks
of mudskippers, crawdads, and turtles.
It was the August my brother flipped
end over end, rolling six times before
coming to a stop after swerving
from a turtle he thought he’d seen.
I braked hard, seeing nothing
but the heap of him while my father hobbled
from the calf hutches as hurriedly
as he could on already failing legs.
He arrived quick enough: my brother stood,
then fainted into outstretched arms.
He spent the next six months sleeping
in the leather chair in the family room
until his collarbone broken into three
healed back into one.

The next summer began just as dry,
the earth cracking, the leaves wilting
and falling from the oak
where they had buried the Indian woman.
A summer so dry I couldn’t believe
the day I found the basement breathing
with hundreds of turtles:
concrete walls holding a world of water,
and the turtles a landmass.
It was like a river dammed,
or a lake choked, but alive.
Into that dreamscape
my father descended, and rose
an hour later with three bags
he buried out back. It was three days
before the rains began, flooding all
the way to the shed, drowning
the field where the oak stood.
That tree greened up in a day.

And the turtles returned.

*

This post is part of a series on trees. Submit your tree features to snakeoilcure[at]gmail[dot]com.

* * * * *

Kevin C. Peters transitioned into functional adulthood in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he received his MFA. He then fled the cold to spend several years teaching and traveling abroad. He currently resides in Oregon. His other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.