For a year, my father killed turtles.
During the summer, he and his friends
waited for them to bank on the beach
at night like small, shipwrecked vessels.
Dressed in damp linen and old sandals,
they smoked cigarettes under the cliffs
until a turtle emerged from the white surf
—see how the carapace flickers
in the moonlight, a blazing iron shell.
They do not wait for her
to dig her nest, deposit
eggs into the black sand.
They had seen that all before as children,
watching these mothers return
to their birthplace.
My father shines a lantern
on her, hind legs kicking up
showers of silt as four of them take
shovels to each flipper, tumbling her backwards
onto her shell, the burrow half finished.
A boy knifes her cleanly in the chest,
elastic belly swollen with eggs,
the skin white and moist like a cut pear.
They scoop out her eggs with rough hands.
The empty cavity flexes as they begin
to flay her. Tomorrow, the eggs will be sold
to the grocer. Her body will be used for supper.
He’s told me this story every year, since I can remember.
Although the story sometimes changes, he is never
the one with the knife. He merely holds the lantern.
—from Rattle #24, Winter 2005
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