If you see a turtle
does it seem odd
it wears bones outside?
Does the turtle
live within these bones
and where do you go
to hide from bright light..
If you place a sandal
on your head
which end will be walking?
A reflection on Case 17 of the Iron Flute Koans
The question of the day is
would you rather be a turtle
or a snail, not to be sung
to any melody by Paul Simon.
Think carefully, for one day
the question will have real impact
and you will get your answer
with a permanence that merits
the most careful consideration.
Today may or may not be that day.
And please note, your choice is snail
or turtle, not a land tortoise, so longevity
shouldn’t come into play at all.
So, yes, it all comes down to this,
some child may try and grab you
and put you in a glass terrarium
and try to make a vegetarian of you
or people will moan, seeing your tail
and imagine you served with shallots
In a small pond of melted butter.
The last stitch is sewn,
the loose threads trimmed,
the pincushioned fingers
are swaddled in bandages,
bits of brown thread plucked
from sofa, rug and shirt.
It is done, save for every
other stitch you now
want to pull and resew,
the mocking voice of the needle
convincing you otherwise.
All that is left is the turtle
sewn by another, and the inscription
of a name picked from a short list
that whispered to you
pick me, I’m yours, I’m you.
The robe of liberation is wondrous
but putting aside the pins
and the needle you lovingly
cursed so often is awe-inspiring.
The small child peers through
the bamboo poles of the bridge
as he stares down at a turtle
who stares up at him with equal fascination.
His mother excitedly says, “see the turtle?”
Of course he can see the turtle
but he also sees an Ichthyosaurus
and giant whales and frightening fish.
Later, as she points out an iguana,
he will see the small lizard and all
manner of dinosaurs roaming,
a pterodactyl swooping overhead
mimicking a crow, for pterodactyl
have the same magical power as coyotes.
Tonight he will dream of all these beasts
the amazing lands he visited
while in the living room his mother
will tell his father, “Jonathan saw turtle today,”
for parents can only see with two eyes.