Voyages from I to Thou.

Location: Skellig Michel, Ireland

Friday, February 04, 2005

From Underneath (Stephen Dunn)

A giant sea turtle saved the life
of a 52 year old woman lost at sea
for two days after a shipwreck
in the Southern Philippines. She rode
on the turtle's back.

-Syracuse Post-Standard

When her arms were no longer
strong enough to tread water
it came up beneath her, hard
and immense, and she thought
this is how death comes,
something large between your legs
and then the plunge.
She dived off instinctively,
but it got beneath her again
and when she realized what it was
she soiled herself, held on.

God would have sent something winged,
she thought. This came from beneath,
a piece of hell that killed a turtle
on the way and took its shape.
How many hours passed?
She didn't know, but it was night
and the waves were higher. The
thing swam easily in the dark.

She swooned into sleep.
When she woke it was morning,
the sea calm, her strange raft
still moving. She noticed the elaborate
pattern of its shell, map-like,
the leathery neck and head
as if she'd come up behind
an old longshoreman
in a hard-backed chair.
She wanted and was afraid to touch
the head-one finger
just above the eyes-
the way she could touch her cat
and make it hers.
The more it swam a steady course
the more she spoke to it
the jibberish of the lost.
And then the laughter
located at the bottom
of oneself, unstoppable.

The call went from sailor to sailor
on the fishing boat: A woman
riding an "oil drum"
off the starboard side.
But the turtle was already swimming
toward the prow
with its hysterical, foreign cargo
and when it came up alongside
it stopped until she could be hoisted off.
Then it circled three times
and went down.
The woman was beyond all language
the captain reported;
the crew was afraid of her
for a long, long time.


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