Turtle blood is memory. Memory that would perhaps remain forgotten and undisturbed beneath the dust and the years. The name of this site, “What Turtle Blood Tastes Like” is taken from a poem that began at the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference in a workshop taught by Stan Sanvel Rubin. The workshop focused on the workings of time in poetry…Stan said,”you write a poem in one time and then it is taken by the reader and interpreted in another time, a later time, or read aloud with different pacing, measure, a musical time” and “Time as a medium in which poetry exists…floating in time”. We read examples of poems in which time was juxtaposed and toyed with. One that sticks with me is William Carlos Williams‘ “This is just to say”:
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold.
And from this time bounding, confessional poem came rushing memories like turtle blood and the following images which I jotted down, willow swamp, turtle blood, shell drum, lifting the stone and dropping it, the sick wet crack of mossy shell. I had heard Sherwin Bitsui read a poem the day before in which there was a line that asked, “what does turtle blood taste like”, which haunted me into the following day and helped coax my own memories from the deep recesses. So here it is, a few revisions later…
What Turtle Blood Tastes Like
They believed no one could see
them beneath the willow temple,
down by the algae bloom swamp.
They prayed if they all drank
of that blood and swamp water,
they might keep the darkness submerged.
One of their fathers told them,
You can’t swim in there shoe-
less, snappers’ll get yer toes.
Pike in the night could be heard
when they fell from their brief orbit
through galaxies of mosquitos.
Who was first to lift the rock high?
Who snatched the slick creature from the cool mud
at the brown edge of the water?
They’d been told some kids deserved
a good beating, just as they likely
deserved what they had coming.
From above which boy’s head did gravity,
granite and a blow from kids playing
god fall down on mossy diamond shell?
The sound was green wood cracking.
They remember purple blood and sick
tears, the beaked mouth kept on snapping.
When one boy threw the broken
turtle back in the swamp he became
the one with blood on his hands.