“The Sea Turtle” by Mary H. Palmer

Mary H. Palmer, RN, C, PhD


Shoulder-deep in the sea turtle’s nest,
I search for remains, nothing alive.
The tiny turtles would have climbed
over each other, forming a living ladder
out of their sandy birth canal
leaving only the unhatched and dead behind.
Mongoose would have gotten any stragglers.
I am here only to count egg shells.

My hand reaches bottom and scoops up
sand and bits of leathery shells. In their midst,
I find a black soft lump, a hatchling left behind.
It remains listless until I gently stroke its belly
until its life flickers and catches hold
as a flame lays claim to a
candle wick.

It doesn’t have much of a chance.
Pelicans already circle. But waiting until night
so it can follow the moon to the
water is a death sentence too. I place it on
the sloping beach and whisper a prayer.
Without a backward glance
it paddles towards the water.
The waves are merciless,
cartwheeling it in the foam.
Head over tail. Head over tail.

But it finds a current and starts its slow
submerged swim, a speck in the sea.
Too far in to return, the turtle breaks the
glimmering surface and takes its first
sea-borne breath.

from Rattle #28, Winter 2007


Mary H. Palmer: “Poetry has been an important part of my life for many years. I see life as interwoven events and emotions forming unique patterns. ‘The Sea Turtle’ sprang into life after taking a morning walk with a park ranger and watching her investigate a disrupted sea turtle nest. This poem was my attempt to convey the irrepressible drive to survive in a hostile world.”

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